Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) sponsored a $3.5 million earmark in 2010 for a Virginia-based company that contributed heavily to his campaign during that election cycle and was a lobbying client of a close former aide, public records show.
Dynamic Animation Systems, a defense company headquartered in Fairfax, Va., hired Greenberg Traurig LLP lobbyist Pedro Pablo Permuy in 2008 and 2009 to help it obtain “appropriations for simulation training,” according to lobbying disclosures. Permuy’s ties to Menendez “go back at least 20 years,” according to the New York Times.
Executives at the company contributed at least $15,600 to Menendez since 2009, all from Virginia addresses. The company’s CEO, Susana Slayton, also contributed $20,000 to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which Menendez chaired at the time.
Menendez sponsored a $3.5 million earmark in 2010 for the company to develop a “Virtual Interactive Combat Environment for the New Jersey National Guard.”
The earmark was cosponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) and sponsored in the House by former Rep. Steve Rothman (D., N.J.). Lautenberg received at least $1,000 from Dynamic Animation Systems executives since 2007. Rothman received at least $10,900 during the same time period.
Government watchdogs said the incident gives the appearance of “pay-to-play,” or trading federal funding and assistance for campaign contributions.
“The fact that [Permuy is] working for a company that benefits from an earmark from the senator speaks for itself,” said the National Legal and Policy Center’s Ken Boehm. “It has nothing to do with policy. It has everything to do with fundraising dollars.”
Menendez’s office and Dynamic Animation Systems did not respond to requests for comment.
The new details about Menendez’s relationship with Permuy’s lobbying clients come on the heels of an Associated Press investigation that found Menendez sponsored natural gas vehicle legislation that would have benefited a company owned by Salomon Melgen, a controversial Democratic donor and eye doctor currently under federal investigation for suspected Medicare fraud.
Permuy also lobbied on “environmental matters” for a small New Jersey company called West Essex Management Corporation in 2008.
The owners of West Essex Management Corp. are the sole American investors in Codacsa, a consortium of companies entangled in a legal dispute with the Dominican Republic since 2008 over a contract to build toll roads.
Menendez spoke out on behalf of Codacsa’s American investors during a hearing he convened as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on July 31, 2012.
He called on the U.S. government to help enforce an international arbitration ruling that awarded Codacsa a $42.5 million payout from the Dominican government.
“[The Dominican Republic has] an international arbitration award in the case of Codacsa, which was building a road there, which has U.S. investors and are not willing to comply with the international arbitration decision, which ruled in favor of the company,” Menendez said.
The Star-Ledger reported last week that the American investors in Codacsa, New Jersey resident Ruby Pacheco and her husband Joseph Bonanno, have contributed $19,800 to Menendez since 2006. That includes a $5,000 contribution on June 12, 2012, one month before Menendez advocated for Codacsa during his hearing.
Menendez’s office said he intervened because of the New Jersey ties to the case and that he did not act on behalf of Pacheco and Bonanno.
A call to a number registered to Pacheco and Bonanno was not returned.
Pablo Permuy served as Menendez’s national security adviser from 2001 to 2003 when then-Congressman Menendez was a member of the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee. Menendez spoke warmly of Permuy in farewell remarks before the subcommittee in 2003.
“[Permuy’s] now going to the dark side, going to the private sector that is,” Menendez said. “But he’s going to Greenberg Traurig, bringing his expertise there. We’re going to miss him, but we want to congratulate him and thank him for all of the tremendous service that he has given the committee.”
Permuy joined Greenberg Traurig as director of government affairs after leaving Menendez’s staff and later served as vice president of public and government affairs for ABSi Corporation. Currently he is the CEO of a consulting firm called Green T, LLC and president of the United States-Spain Council, which Menendez chairs.
The New York Times reported last week that Permuy was supposed to be tapped as a top executive at the border security company at the center of another Menendez controversy, according to sources close to the deal. The company is partially owned by Melgen.
Menendez advocated for this second Melgen company, which is also in a legal dispute with the Dominican government, during the same July 2012 hearing in which he spoke in support of Codacsa.
“Everything about Permuy suggests that he’s made a career out of his closeness to Sen. Menendez, whether it’s lobbying whether it’s working on U.S.-Spain Council or whether its working w the Senator’s biggest donor, Dr. Melgen,” Boehm said.
A call to a number registered to Permuy was not returned.