How the Democratic Party’s Fundraising Juggernaut Could Help Bob Menendez’s Legal Defense

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September 27, 2023

Senator Robert Menendez leaned heavily on his campaign war chest to aid his legal defense in a bribery case nearly a decade ago. The embattled New Jersey Democrat is likely to do the same in the wake of a recent bribery indictment—this time with the help of the Democratic Party’s largest fundraising juggernaut.

Menendez and New Millennium PAC, a pro-Menendez group, use ActBlue to process donations for New Jersey’s senior senator. Menendez is one of thousands of Democrats to use the service, which solicits campaign contributions in exchange for a 3.9 percent processing fee. The group says it aims to help small-dollar donors "make their voices heard and transform power structures in our country."

Now, those small-dollar donors could help fund a scandal-plagued lawmaker accused of egregious abuse of power. Menendez’s campaign has raised $812,039 this year alone through ActBlue, according to campaign finance records. He has already tapped his campaign to pay lawyers working for him in the latest bribery case.

According to campaign disclosures, Menendez has paid $48,000 to the firm Schertler & Oronato, and $127,343 to Winston & Strawn, both of which are representing Menendez in the current case. Veteran Democratic attorney Abbe Lowell, a partner at Winston & Strawn, is Menendez’s lead attorney. Lowell also represents Hunter Biden in his various legal entanglements.

Menendez was indicted last week on charges that he received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gold bars in exchange for political favors for three New Jersey businessmen. Menendez’s wife was also indicted, as were the businessmen.

According to federal prosecutors, Menendez provided sensitive information to Egyptian intelligence operatives in exchange for the bribes. He also allegedly tried to intervene in a federal corruption investigation on behalf of one of his co-defendants. Federal agents who raided Menendez’s home in June 2022 discovered gold bars and $480,000 in cash stuffed in envelopes, clothing, and a safe.

Menendez has resisted calls to resign and end his reelection campaign, stoking speculation that he wants to remain in power in order to use that position to raise money for his legal defense.

He’s done it before. In 2013, Menendez’s campaign paid $332,868 to the law firm McDermott Will & Emery, and paid $162,736 to Chadbourne & Parke in 2014, according to campaign finance records. Those firms represented Menendez when he was indicted in 2015 on charges that he accepted bribes from Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for political favors. New Millennium PAC contributed $20,000 in 2014 and 2015 to Menendez’s legal defense trust, which solicited millions of dollars in donations from Menendez cronies. Sen. Cory Booker’s (D., N.J.) political action committee contributed $40,000 to the Menendez fund, as did current New Jersey U.S. attorney Phillip Sellinger.

ActBlue did not respond to requests for comment on the Menendez case. It has kicked candidates off its fundraising platform in the past for violating the organization’s "values." Most notably, ActBlue suspended Andrew Cuomo in 2021 after 11 women accused him of sexual harassment. ActBlue suspended a Kansas state legislator in 2020 after he admitted to sending revenge porn.

Menendez’s office did not respond to requests for comment.