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Sen. Robert Menendez faces new questions on ties to big donor

A new report that Senator Menendez sponsored a bill that could have helped a major Florida donor's investment in natural gas vehicle conversion rekindles rumors of ethics violations.


Sen. Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey, a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, asks questions during testimony at a congressional hearing in Washington on Feb. 14 on how federal regulators dealt with the 2007-'09 financial crisis.

Gary Cameron/Reuters/File

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More trouble is looming for Sen. Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey: According to an Associated Press investigation, the embattled New Jersey Democrat sponsored legislation that, if passed, would have aided one of his biggest donor's investment in a natural gas vehicle conversion company.

The report, published Monday, stated that Senator Menendez sponsored a bill to give tax credits and grants to truck and heavy vehicle fleets that converted to natural gas. The bill could have benefited Salomon Melgen, the Florida eye doctor whose close relationship with Menendez has spurred a Senate ethics investigation. Dr. Melgen is an investor and member of the board of directors of Gaseous Fuel Systems Corp., which designs, manufactures, and sells products to convert diesel- and gas-fuel vehicles to natural gas.

Menendez’s backing of the natural-gas bill marks another convergence of interest between the politician and a major donor and is a thorn for the senator. But political watchers in New Jersey say the bill sponsorship is one part of a larger clean-energy agenda from the senator, who has a history of supporting environmental causes. As such, it is unlikely this latest allegation represents a conflict of interest, says Brigid Harrison, a political scientist at Montclair State University, who predicts that Menendez will survive the latest storm.

“I’m still not convinced ... that this kind of behavior reaches to the status where it becomes enormously problematic in voters’ minds,” says Professor Harrison. “I’m not seeing any illegality or conflict of interest here.”


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