New Jersey Republicans are accusing Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) of having violated Senate ethics rules by failing to disclose or seek Senate permission for air travel and lodging provided by a wealthy campaign donor.
The Middlesex County Republican Organization is asking the Senate Ethics Committee to launch an investigation into Menendez based on public records and media reports indicating the senator failed to disclose and seek permission for a series of flights to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic between 2010 and 2012.
Records indicate Menendez made at least four trips on a corporate jet owned by Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist who has donated more than $220,000 to Democratic candidates and committees since 1993. Melgen gave at least $12,600 to Menendez during that period.
"It does not appear that Senator Menendez’s apparent acceptance of private jet travel and luxury lodging was permitted by Senate gift rules," the letter states. "Nor does it appear that Senator Menendez disclosed acceptance of this travel and lodging on his financial disclosure form—as he would be required to do even if the gifts were otherwise permissible."
Melgen owns a private villa in the luxurious Casa de Campo resort in the Dominican Republic. Menendez is a frequent guest of Melgen's and has participated in what one Dominican government official described as "sex orgies" with "higher-class" prostitutes according to reports from the Daily Caller
The Caller recently interviewed two Dominican women who claimed Menendez paid them for sex earlier this year.
Senate rules allow members to accept reimbursement from a private party for transportation, lodging, and other expenses related to official business as long as the activity is formally approved by the Senate Ethics Committee.
"There is no indication that the Melgen Jet travel was undertaken by Senator Menendez for any purpose connected with his official duties of office, and even if it was undertaken for an officially-related purpose there is no indication that the travel was appropriately approved and publicly disclosed as required by Senate Rules," the letter states.
The only apparent record of reimbursement for the flights is a payment of $5,380 to Melgen’s company from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) for air travel on May 24, 2010. Reports indicate that Menendez, who was chairman of the DSCC at the time, travelled from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico on Melgen’s plane to attend a fundraising event with Puerto Rican donors.
Senate rules also permit members to accept travel and lodging as gifts of personal friendship. However, senators must obtain written approval from the Ethics Committees for all gifts exceeding $250 in value and list all such gifts on their annual financial disclosure report.
Menendez’s disclosure reports between 2010 and 2012 contain no mention of the flights and lodging, indicating that the senator did not receive committee approval for a personal gift exemption.
"Under any analysis, there is reason to believe that Senator Menendez has accepted a prohibited gift of private air travel," the letter states.
If Menendez did receive approval for the gifts, but failed to disclose them anyway, it could warrant a criminal charge for making false statements on a federal government filing.
The Senate Code of Official Conduct requires members to refrain from "improper conduct reflecting on the Senate." It is unclear if this includes the solicitation of prostitutes.
Senate Resolution 338 authorizes the Ethics Committee to investigate allegations of such conduct, and "recommend disciplinary action" if necessary.
"If Senator Menendez has indeed engaged in improper conduct contrary to Senate ethics rules and standards, he should be sanctioned appropriately," the letter states.
The Senate Ethics Committee did not return a request for comment.
"I don't know anything about it," Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright said by email when asked for comment on the letter.
Enright did not comment on the allegations.