The Star-Ledger is reporting another instance Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) appears to have used his political clout in order to influence contracts that would benefit a campaign donor. According to the Star-Ledger:
On the very same day Menendez interceded with Obama administration officials on the ports deal last summer, he also went to bat for another company involving a heavily disputed Dominican road-building contract. …
The road contract, which has attracted scant attention in the United States, involved a firm called Codacsa, a Spanish consortium with U.S. interests, various government records show. At a hearing on July 31, 2012, of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere — then chaired by Menendez — the New Jersey senator called on the U.S. government to pressure the Dominican government on behalf of Codacsa in connection with a $42.5 million international arbitration award, according to an official transcript of the proceeding.
Concesionaria Dominicana de Autopistas y Carreteras, known as Codacsa, was hired to build portions of a Dominican highway. Their initial contract was worth $66 million. The government and Codasca had a legal disagreement over toll collections once the project was completed. The parties went to international court where Codacsa “lost the right to collect tolls but won the $42.5 million verdict in damages,” the Star-Ledger reported.
The case concluded in January 2012, but the company “had no way to collect the money.”
Menendez subsequently discussed the situation at the 2012 subcommittee hearing.
Menendez, a Democrat, told officials from the state and commerce departments that countries needed to be sent a message that they could not violate trade agreements and arbitration awards. "If these countries can get away with it, they will," he said at hearing, according to the transcript.
Clearly Tropical, a New Jersey-based company, was the sole U.S. investor in Codacsa. They held “a $130,000 stake” in the Dominican company at the time of the hearing.
According to the Star-Ledger, Ruby Pacheco runs Clearly Tropical and has made contributions to Sen. Menendez for over six years.
Pacheco is married to Joseph Bonanno. Together the couple has contributed $19,800 to the senator’s campaigns and leadership PAC. They contributed “two $2,500 checks to Menendez’s November re-election campaign” in June 2012.
The recent donations came just one month before Menendez addressed officials at the subcommittee hearing.
A spokesman for Menendez has defended the senator’s actions, calling his behaviors “advocacy” and assistance on behalf of New Jersey constituents—rather than an effort to assist a top donor.
“New Jersey investors are part-owners of Codacsa, and they sought assistance from their government and legislators,” said the spokesman, Paul Brubaker. “Advocacy is an important part of the work done by senators on behalf of American interests, and Sen. Menendez believes the Dominican government needs to meet its obligations.”
Brubaker also said the senator did not know who contacted him in regards to the issue, but a constituent brought it to his attention and Menendez “decided on his own volition to raise the issue.”
However, Melanie Sloan, the director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), did not see it the same way, noting there is “no way” Menendez would have focused on the contract if donors were not involved.
"I think Menendez has a lot of explaining to do," Sloan said. "At a minimum, right now he should be recusing himself from any port-security issues and it’s increasingly looking like he should be recused from anything affecting the Dominican Republic."
Menendez has not indicated any intention to step down or diminish his role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee thus far.