Menendez’s charity: Better late than never?

Al Kamen
Columnist July 29, 2013

Sen. Robert Menendez is finally paying up on an IOU, but he’s just a little more than a day late and a dollar short.

The New Jersey Democrat’s most recent campaign filings show that he donated the tidy sum of $8,800 apiece to the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater New Jersey and Autism Speaks.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Hey, what a guy, right?

But he wasn’t motivated entirely by altruism — and the amount was a hair under what he’d promised the nonprofits.

The donations were a way to get rid of tainted political donations from a shady donor (candidates may return illegal donations either by giving them to the U.S. Treasury or to a charity). The Record of Bergen County, N.J., noted in early May that Menendez had promised that the charitable donations were coming more than a year earlier. In the May story, he blamed a campaign attorney for the delay in writing the checks.

“I ordered it to be done,” Menendez told the paper at the time. “We checked our records and the law firm we hired to cut all of our checks and do all of our vetting failed to do so. So I told them they had to get it done today.”

Seems that this time, the lawyers got cracking. The money was handed over May 6.

Still, it wasn’t quite the full amount Menendez had originally offered. According to the Record, he had pledged to donate $18,800 of the money he received from insurance broker Joseph Bigica, who pleaded guilty to using straw donors to fill the senators’ campaign coffers.

But the two donations together totaled only $17,600. That’s $1,200 short of what he said was coming.

A Menendez spokeswoman tells the Loop that the campaign legal team reviewed the donations in question and determined that $17,600 represented the full amount of the illegal funds that need to be ditched.

Better late (and less) than never.

Bow-wows on choo-choos

Democrats and Republicans might be fighting like cats and dogs on a variety of fronts, but furry pets seem to be one topic on which these natural enemies can agree — if only ever so briefly.

Among the rare bipartisan bills floating around Congress of late is the Pets on Trains Act, a landmark law that would allow Amtrak riders to schlep Fido and Fluffy along with their luggage while riding the rails.

Now, Amtrak allows animals on its trains only if they’re service animals.

The pets-on-trains bill is sponsored by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) with a whole slate of members from both parties signed on as co-sponsors, and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council is leading a lobbying push for the bill, urging pet lovers to contact Congress. “For many of us, our animals are family,” says chief executive Mike Canning. “The Pets on Trains Act is a win-win.”

And what else would bring Democrats and Republicans together to mingle Tuesday night at a reception at the Cannon House Office Building? (Hint: They’ve got four paws.)

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus are holding an animal-adoption event whose invite promises photo ops with bipartisan “members of Congress holding adoptable animals.”

Aww.

Seems they can agree on something.

Who knows? Perhaps the uniting effects of all this might spill over to some of the bigger issues pending in the Capitol. (Cough) immigration (cough).

Another bundler

To fill the latest ambassadorship, this one to lovely Portugal, President Obama went to a familiar pool: his list of top campaign donors. Obama announced last week that lawyer Robert Sherman, who bundled more than $2 million in donations in both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, was his nominee for the diplomatic post.

Sherman helped found the Boston office of mega-law firm Greenberg Traurig.

Of course, we’ve seen this before. The president has made diplomats of many of his big money men and women — or at least he’s nominated them to some of the nicer embassies in the European capitals.

Now the Senate’s got its work cut out with a slew of ambassador nominees to plow through. The Foreign Relations Committee is cranking through some of them this week, and by the time senators leave for their August break, the panel could clear 18 or more ambassadors to serve in embassies overseas. They will then go into the queue for a full Senate vote. Unclear whether any of the nominees need to pack anytime soon.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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