Republicans Target Senate Democrats Over Menendez Contributions

The GOP makes clear it will do whatever it can to turn the senator's legal troubles into a campaign liability for his colleagues.

Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, waits for the start of a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 30, 2013.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Republicans are making clear they will do whatever they can to turn Senator Robert Menendez's legal troubles into a campaign liability for Menendez's fellow Democrats, starting with their No. 1 target for 2016: Minority Leader Harry Reid.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is demanding that Reid pay back campaign contributions Menendez made to the Nevada Democrat during Reid's 2010 campaign. In press release Monday, the group said Reid had in the past returned money from donors who were under indictment.

“Harry Reid’s cardinal rule is if you’ve been indicted by the federal government, then he immediately returns your campaign contributions,” said NRSC spokesman Jahan Wilcox. “With Senator Menendez set to be indicted for corruption, Reid needs to abide by his own policy and dump the money he’s received from his corrupt Democrat colleague.” 

The U.S. Justice Department is preparing corruption charges against Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, a person familiar with the investigation said on March 6. Menendez was the panel's chairman before his party lost control of the Senate in January.

In a news conference on March 6, Menendez denied wrongdoing and said he won’t leave office.

Prosecutors have been examining whether Menendez illegally promoted the business interests of a friend and campaign donor, Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist. The Justice Department will probably seek charges in the next few weeks, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public.

Menendez contributed $10,000 to Reid in 2009 through his leadership PAC, New Millennium PAC. He hasn't donated to Reid's 2016 re-election efforts.

Reid is the most high-profile—though not the only—Democrat whom Republicans seek to link to Menendez through campaign contributions. The group is also targeting other recipients of Menendez cash, including Colorado Senator Michael Bennet; Pennsylvania Senate candidate Joe Sestak, a former congressman; and Representative Chris Van Hollen, who is seeking a Maryland Senate seat.

Menendez, 61, served as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the 2010 campaign cycle and donated $389,000 through his leadership PAC to Democrats that year, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington group that tracks campaign spending.

Politico reported Monday that Reid voluntarily spoke to investigators last year about the Menendez investigation. Politico said its sources, whom it didn't identify, described Reid as a witness in the case. Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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