As the scandal surrounding Senator Bob Menendez, D-N.J., grows into a steady drip, drip, drip of increasingly damaging stories for Senate Democrats (following an FBI raid of a top Democratic donor's offices), we learn today that this sordid story extends far beyond the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In an extensively-reported story, Politico broke the news that the Democratic donor at the heart of the scandal, Dr. Salomon Melgen, also extensively courted other top Democrats, including President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who flew on Melgen's private jet at least once last year. Melgen also donated $700,000 last year to Majority PAC, a Democratic Super PAC that ran TV ads in support of many Democratic Senate candidates in 2012.
Politico noted, "Melgen and his family donated nearly $1 million to Menendez's campaigns and related committees." Unmentioned was the fact that Menendez has used this money in part to spread his own influence in the Democratic caucus by donating to a number of colleagues including, among others, Kay Hagan ($10,000), Mark Begich ($10,000), Mark Pryor ($12,500), Al Franken ($10,000), Tim Johnson ($10,000), Jeanne Shaheen ($7,500) and Mary Landrieu ($5,000).
Perhaps it's not surprising then that, as this scandal has grown in recent weeks—including a front-page report in the Washington Post that a federal grand jury has been convened to investigate Menendez and the biggest newspaper in New Jersey calling on Menendez to step down from his chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee—not a single one of these Democrats has had anything to say. Even Newark Mayor and aspiring New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who doesn't so much as sneeze without tweeting about it, has been MIA.
Of course, silence by Senate Democrats hasn't always been the case in matters such as this.
In 2006, another influence-peddling scandal shook Washington. Lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who ultimately pled guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials, had also donated heavily over the years to a number of members of Congress. As pictures emerged of Abramoff shaking hands at fundraisers with top Republican officials, including President Bush, a number of Republicans, including—full disclosure, a former boss of mine—quickly found themselves on the defensive.
Ignoring the fact that several top members of their own party also benefitted from Abramoff's largesse, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who received over $60,000 in Abramoff-directed contributions, Democrats smelled blood and went on the attack.
Then-Senator Barack Obama even held a press conference where he said that scandals such as this were "Republican sins alone" and that they had "shaken the very foundation of the American people's faith in a government that will look out for their interests and uphold their values."
Senators Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and Dick Durbin went further, calling on Bush Administration officials to "fully disclose" all of their dealings with Abramoff. The trio sent a letter in May of 2006 to Bush Chief of Staff Josh Bolten stating that White House "silence on this issue is likely to only further the perception that the American people have yet to hear the full story." Notably, two letters about the matter are still available on Schumer's website here and here.
But this wouldn't be the last time Senate Democrats loudly went on offense on ethics-related matters, even when the issues in question were far, far less egregious than those surrounding Melgen and Menendez today.
In the midst of a hard-fought Senate campaign in the fall of 2010, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent million of dollars on TV attack ads across the state of Missouri charging the Republican candidate with being a "Washington insider" and worse, using his position "to insert special favors into bills." And earlier that year, the DSCC even went so far as to use the World Trade Center as a backdrop in a TV ad to claim that then-candidate Scott Brown was a champion of "greed and corruption."
And who signed off on this expensive ad campaign purporting to tout the importance of ethics in Washington? None other than then-DSCC Chairman Bob Menendez.
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Updated 11/5/13: Brian Walsh remains a paid adviser to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.