Ethics panel gives Menendez wide latitude for repayment of gifts from Melgen

Last month, the Senate Ethics Committee demanded that Sen. Bob Menendez pay back the value of the gifts he received from his friend, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, and amend his Senate financial disclosure reports to show those gifts, which the panel determined he had improperly failed to report for years.

But the committee provided no time frame for Menendez (D-N.J.) to amend the reports or for the repayments, nor did it detail exactly how much he has to pay back. According to ethics watchdogs, it’s completely up to Menendez, who is seeking reelection this year, as to when and how much he’ll reimburse and disclose.

“They are clearly leaving it up to Menendez to make his own determination …,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the ethics watchdog group Public Citizen. “The Senate Ethics Committee is notorious for being very lax and usually sweeping everything under the Continue reading “Ethics panel gives Menendez wide latitude for repayment of gifts from Melgen”

Menendez admonishment gives New Jersey Republicans a lifeline

Some New Jersey Republicans, staring down an electoral cliff, think they’ve spotted a branch to hold on to in Sen. Robert Menendez’s ethical troubles.

The Senate Ethics Committee’s “severe” admonishment of Menendez last week over gifts received from and favors done for a friend gave some much-needed ammunition to New Jersey Republicans who are running in a state where President Donald Trump’s deep unpopularity is threatening to make it the crest of an incoming Democratic wave.

"Both Democrats and Republicans that make up the Bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee have found that Senator Bob Menendez violated Federal law and ethics rules. He is an embarrassment to our state and it is time for him to resign," Bob Hugin, Menendez’s likely challenger in November, said in a statement last week.

It’s not just Hugin, a wealthy former pharmaceutical executive, who’s seized on the Ethics Committee’s findings. In the 2nd Congressional District, Continue reading “Menendez admonishment gives New Jersey Republicans a lifeline”

How progressives got steamrolled in New Jersey

Jeff Van Drew has voted against raising the minimum wage and gay marriage. He often sides with industry on environmental issues and carries an A rating from the NRA. And he’s the odds-on favorite to be New Jersey’s newest Democratic congressman.

In the party’s first real crack at winning the South Jersey-based district held by retiring Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) for more than two decades, Democratic party establishment — at every level — is throwing its collective weight behind Van Drew, leaving local progressives baffled, frustrated and more than a little angry.

The race is a showcase of whether the Democratic Party nationally will tolerate politicians like Van Drew in the name of winning back the majority in the U.S. House for the first time since 2011. It highlights Democrats’ struggles to blend their stated ideals on issues like diversity and gun control with the political realities Continue reading “How progressives got steamrolled in New Jersey”

Lonegan wants Menendez charged for holding a rifle during press conference

Republican congressional candidate Steve Lonegan said Friday he plans to seek criminal charges against Sen. Bob Menendez for briefly holding a display gun at a press conference while standing next to a county sheriff.

Lonegan said Menendez (D-N.J.) violated New Jersey’s strict law on gun possession when he picked up an unloaded and tagged AR-15-style rifle from a display table during a press conference last month and held it for less than 20 seconds.

“I don’t believe this is what you need to go hunting. I don’t believe this is what you need to defend yourself,” Menendez said at the early March event outside the Essex County Public Safety Academy, while standing next to Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura. “The only thing this does is kill as many people in as short a time as possible.”

Lonegan, a conservative former mayor of Bogota who has run unsuccessfully Continue reading “Lonegan wants Menendez charged for holding a rifle during press conference”

Why a fellow Democrat is blocking New Jersey governor’s lefty agenda

New Jersey‘s new governor, Democrat Phil Murphy, wants the state to be a “progressive blue beacon“ after eight years of Republican Gov. Chris Christie. But Murphy‘s plans face a big obstacle — one from his own party in the form of Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Sweeney, a burly Gloucester ironworker whose working-class South Jersey style cuts a sharp contrast to Murphy, a former ambassador and Goldman Sachs alum, has embarked on an anti-tax crusade that threatens the funding for much of the governor’s agenda.

Murphy won office handily, pledging free community college, legalized marijuana, increased school funding, protections for immigrants, a state-run bank modeled on North Dakota‘s and a $15 minimum wage. He even promised to raise some taxes.

But despite Democratic control of both chambers of the state Legislature, nothing major from Murphy’s list has been enacted. Instead, the tense relationship between Murphy and Sweeney has been Continue reading “Why a fellow Democrat is blocking New Jersey governor’s lefty agenda”

While Hugin led Celgene, its PAC donated heavily to Menendez

Likely Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bob Hugin says he’s “embarrassed” by Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, whose corruption trial ended late last year with a hung jury.

Menendez‘s campaign calls Hugin a “robber baron“ and accuses Celgene, the Summit-based pharmaceutical company he ran until last month, of “parking billions overseas.”

But in an awkward twist, Celgene’s corporate political action committee has donated thousands of dollars to Menendez‘s campaign fund and his leadership PAC, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. The donations came as Menendez’s legal problems were in the news — including thousands made after the senator’s April 2015 indictment on federal corruption charges.

Despite Menendez’s misgivings about Celgene, he did not return any of the money.

According to the FEC filings, Celgene’s political action committee donated $2,500 to New Millennium PAC, the leadership PAC Menendez uses to help fund political allies and cover certain Continue reading “While Hugin led Celgene, its PAC donated heavily to Menendez”

Menendez touts immigrant heritage, targets Trump in reelection kickoff

UNION CITY — This densely packed city in the shadow of Manhattan’s skyscrapers that’s been home to waves of immigrants for centuries is where both Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and his likely Republican opponent, Bob Hugin, grew up.

But Menendez laid claim to the city at his reelection campaign kickoff Wednesday, held in the local high school gymnasium that was packed with more than 1,000 students — mostly, like Menendez, of Hispanic heritage.

“I know some of you are not old enough to vote. I am not here to ask for your vote. I am here because I am your vote in the United States Senate. Every time I cast a vote, I do it for you. I carry a piece of this place in my heart,” said Menendez, whose working-class Cuban immigrant mother gave birth to him in the U.S. and raised him in a small apartment just Continue reading “Menendez touts immigrant heritage, targets Trump in reelection kickoff”

Republican Hugin launches Senate candidacy, says he’s ’embarrassed’ by Menendez

SPRINGFIELD — Bob Hugin, a multimillionaire pharmaceutical executive, launched his Republican campaign for Senate on Tuesday by saying he was “embarrassed” by the behavior of Democratic incumbent Bob Menendez.

“This campaign is going to be a contrast — a stark contrast in candidates,” Hugin, 63, said at an Elks lodge in Springfield, Union County. “I have to tell you I am offended by Senator Menendez’s actions. He’s violated the public trust and, at the same time, he’s failed the people of New Jersey.”

Menendez faced a 2 1/2-month corruption trial last fall that ended in a hung jury, with 10 of 12 jurors favoring acquittal on most counts against New Jersey’s senior senator. The Department of Justice announced last month that it will not retry Menendez.

The trial — in which Menendez was accused of doing favors for Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for political contributions, private Continue reading “Republican Hugin launches Senate candidacy, says he’s ’embarrassed’ by Menendez”

Former Jets center considers run to replace Frelinghuysen

Former New York Jets center Nick Mangold is considering running in the GOP primary to replace retiring Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, according to a Republican county chairman in the district.

“I had a conversation with him. He’s intrigued by the idea. He has to think it over and talk with his wife,” Essex County Republican Chairman Al Barlas said in a phone interview. “After an 11-year playing career and a college career, he’s enjoying being at home with his wife and kids.“

Barlas said he’s recruiting Mangold, 34, whose entrance would shake up what could be a crowded GOP primary. So far, Assemblyman Jay Webber is the only major Republican to declare his candidacy.

Barlas said Mangold is a registered Republican who has voted in three of the last five primaries and six of the last seven general elections.

“He’s a different candidate. He gives different name ID," Barlas Continue reading “Former Jets center considers run to replace Frelinghuysen”

Voting record — or lack of one — could tip scales in race for Frelinghuysen seat

New Jersey Assemblyman Jay Webber has an advantage if he becomes the Republican nominee for the House seat being vacated by longtime GOP incumbent Rodney Frelinghuysen: He’s spent the last decade representing about a quarter of the district in the state Legislature.

But that may also cut the other way.

Webber, the only major Republican so far to declare his candidacy in the 11th Congressional District, has accumulated a deeply conservative voting record that’s popular in his bright red legislative district, but could be a liability in a larger congressional district that has a more purple hue.

Mikie Sherrill, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, has no such problem. A 46-year-old mother of four whose resume includes stints as a U.S. Navy helicopter pilot and federal prosecutor after graduating from Georgetown Law in her 30s, her biggest liability so far has been that her Essex County home is Continue reading “Voting record — or lack of one — could tip scales in race for Frelinghuysen seat”

Menendez gets biblical

HACKENSACK — Sen. Bob Menendez’s first name is Robert. But on Monday, he suggested in a biblical reference that it might as well be David after having fought federal corruption charges and come out on top.

“I can personally tell you that … sometimes God puts a Goliath in your path to find a David within you,” Menendez said at a reelection kickoff rally for Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco.

“I was listening to the prayer and he talked about may God give us enough challenges that we learn to lean on him and ultimately find our way through him,” the senator said, referring to a message from the invocation by the Rev. Greg Jackson.

Menendez, a Democrat and New Jersey’s senior senator, learned last week that the Department of Justice would not retry him and his co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, on the 13 charges filed against them in Continue reading “Menendez gets biblical”

Frelinghuysen’s departure highlights GOP’s troubles in New Jersey

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s surprise announcement Monday that he will not seek reelection this year is the latest indication that moderate Republicans like him and Rep. Frank LoBiondo, who have dominated New Jersey for decades, are an increasingly endangered species.

Both lawmakers — LoBiondo announced his retirement in November — have been caught between the Trump wing of the GOP and a growing Democratic New Jersey electorate.

For Frelinghuysen, his powerful post as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee gave him a choice, according to Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray: Side with President Donald Trump and Republican leadership and risk losing reelection, or appeal to his constituents in North Jersey and risk losing his chairmanship.

“To retain his seat, he would have had to stand up to Trump even more, which would have jeopardized his leadership position, which, at this point in his career, is his sole reason for serving Continue reading “Frelinghuysen’s departure highlights GOP’s troubles in New Jersey”

Chris Christie running for attorney general — in Alabama

It’s no secret that former Republican Gov. Chris Christie wanted to be U.S. attorney general, only to see President Donald Trump name former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to the post instead.

Now, Chris Christie is in the running for attorney general after all. In Alabama. And he’s a Democrat.

But it’s an entirely different Chris Christie.

“I’ve probably had a dozen people tell me that I should change my name,” the Alabamian Christie said. “My response is that I’m not changing who I am. I’ve always been Chris Christie.”

Technically, he’s not Chris Christie. His first name is actually James, which happens to be the middle name of New Jersey’s Chris Christie. But the Alabamian said he’s always been called Chris because of his Scottish heritage — his father was an immigrant from Scotland.

“It’s a Scottish thing to call the first [male] child a nickname based on Continue reading “Chris Christie running for attorney general — in Alabama”

New Jersey Democrats not panicking about Menendez retrial

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez is intent on seeking reelection this year despite facing a retrial on federal corruption charges, and New Jersey’s Democratic leaders aren’t trying to stop him.

“Senator Menendez fully expects to be vindicated and has every intention of running for reelection, continuing to fight Donald Trump’s policies on behalf of New Jersey,” Menendez adviser Michael Soliman said in a statement Friday night — hours after the Justice Department announced its intent to retry the senator.

At first glance, it looks like a nightmare scenario for Democrats, who face an already tough map nationally to win control of the Senate. Menendez’s poll numbers took a big hit during last year’s corruption trial, in which he was accused of doing political favors for his friend and co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, in exchange for private jet flights, lavish vacations and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign Continue reading “New Jersey Democrats not panicking about Menendez retrial”

Pharma exec with ties to Christie considers running against Menendez

A pharmaceutical executive with deep ties to Gov. Chris Christie is considering a Republican run for Senate against Democrat Bob Menendez.

Celgene Executive Chairman Bob Hugin’s name was first floated by former New Jersey politics blogger and Bridgegate conspirator David Wildstein, who noticed someone had set up a Twitter account under Hugin’s name and that it was quickly followed by the Republican State Committee’s executive director.

POLITICO confirmed that Hugin, a supporter of President Donald Trump, is considering a challenge to Menendez, whose corruption trial ended in a mistrial in November. Menendez, New Jersey’s senior senator, is up for reelection this year and, while he likely faces a contested primary, has already sewn up Democratic organizational support.

The Justice Department has not yet said whether it plans to retry Menendez, who faced bribery allegations for allegedly doing official favors for friend and campaign donor Salomon Melgen. Ten of the 12 Continue reading “Pharma exec with ties to Christie considers running against Menendez”

After questioning Spicer, Democrats want to depose Priebus about election night activities

Fresh from interviewing former White House press secretary Sean Spicer over what he was doing on the fifth floor of Trump Tower on election night, Democrats now want to interview former Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

Spicer’s presence that night has caused some unease among Republicans because the expiration of a 35-year-old settlement, or consent decree, barring the RNC from engaging in ballot security operations may depend on it. The fifth floor, POLITICO has reported, was the nerve center of then-candidate Donald Trump’s poll-watching operations.

Spicer, at the time, was the RNC’s communications director and chief strategist.

The Democratic request to interview Priebus may be the last gasp in the party’s quest to keep the consent decree alive.

Spicer said he never saw a sign warning him to keep away from the fifth floor of Trump Tower on election night 2016, even though four Republican sources told POLITICO there Continue reading “After questioning Spicer, Democrats want to depose Priebus about election night activities”

Gottheimer and Lance make last-ditch effort to save SALT deduction

With many New Jersey taxpayers likely to be hit hard by the tax cut bill working its way through Congress, a bipartisan House duo from the Garden State is proposing a “fix.”

Republican Rep. Leonard Lance and Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer announced they’re putting forward a proposal to the House conference committee to save the state and local tax deduction, or SALT, in its entirety, which under the bill would be reduced to $10,000.

“This has been part of the federal code since 1913, the advent of the modern code, and I’m advised that it was even contained in the income tax statute that was passed to fund the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln was president,” Lance said during a press conference and call with reporters.

Lance and Gottheimer both represent well-heeled suburban districts where many homeowners pay well above $10,000 a year in property taxes alone.

New Jersey Continue reading “Gottheimer and Lance make last-ditch effort to save SALT deduction”

Despite mistrial, corruption case took a toll on Menendez poll

Most members of the jury in Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption trial thought he was not guilty, but Menendez hasn’t been vindicated in the eyes of the New Jersey public.

A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released Thursday found 51 percent of New Jersey voters think the Democratic senator does not deserve to be reelected next year, while half that number — 26 percent — think he deserves reelection.

Menendez’s two-and-a-half monthslong corruption trial ended in a hung jury earlier this month. According to one of the jurors, 10 of them were in favor of acquitting Menendez on most of the 12 counts against him.

The poll also found that Menendez’s approval ratings are upside down, with 29 percent of residents giving him good marks and 36 percent disapproving. Just 20 percent have a favorable impression of him, while 30 percent have an unfavorable one.

But the numbers are not damning for Menendez, Continue reading “Despite mistrial, corruption case took a toll on Menendez poll”

Judge allows DNC to depose Spicer on election night activities

A federal judge said Wednesday that he’ll allow the Democratic National Committee to depose Sean Spicer, the former Republican National Committee communications director and White House spokesman, on whether he violated a 35-year-old consent decree barring the RNC from engaging in ballot security or voter suppression efforts.

But the judge, Michael Vazquez, denied a DNC request for an evidentiary hearing on whether the RNC violated the consent decree.

The consent decree, which originated from RNC actions in New Jersey’s 1981 gubernatorial election, is set to expire on Friday, but its future is uncertain. Vazquez said he’s not yet ready to rule on whether it will expire on Friday.

“I’m going to reserve on the drop dead date of the consent decree and we’ll go from there,” Vazquez, who was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama, said during a conference call with attorneys for both parties.

Vazquez said that Continue reading “Judge allows DNC to depose Spicer on election night activities”

Christie not surprised by mistrial in Menendez case

MORRIS PLAINS — Gov. Chris Christie said Monday he wasn’t surprised by the failure of the federal government to get a conviction in the corruption case against Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.

“In bribery cases, if you don’t have a narrator and you don’t have tape, they become much more difficult to prove. Not impossible to prove, but much more difficult to prove,” Christie, who was known for prosecuting corruption cases as U.S. attorney for New Jersey from 2002 to 2008, said during a ceremony to name a new road after him.

Monday was the first time Christie has spoken publicly about the Menendez trial since it was declared a mistrial on Thursday.

New Jersey’s senior senator walked out of court last week relieved, but not officially vindicated, after a jury was hung on all the counts against him and his co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.

The Continue reading “Christie not surprised by mistrial in Menendez case”