Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen has given more than $1 million directly and indirectly to Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and committees supporting him over the course of their friendship, new disclosures show.
His West Palm Beach, Fla., company, Melgen Vitreo Retinal Eye Center, donated a combined $103,500 to the Democratic Party committees in four New Jersey counties in the weeks leading up to the November election, the Newark Star-Ledger has reported.
The Star-Ledger quotes Union County Democratic Chairwoman Charlotte DeFilippo saying that, having been told her committee needed additional funds, Menendez “said he’d see what he could do, and I received a check.”
In states such as New Jersey that do not ban all corporate campaign contributions, federal rules permit party committees to raise corporate donations for limited purposes, such as voter registration. However, campaign finance laws bar federal candidates and officials from soliciting such unrestricted corporate money under any circumstances.
“If he actually asked Melgen for this money for these local party committees, it’s a violation of the [Federal Election Campaign Act],” said Brett Kappel, counsel at Arent Fox. “And because of the amount of money involved, it’s a significant violation.”
A Menendez aide declined to comment.
Melgen’s ties to Menendez have come under scrutiny amid a federal investigation that reportedly targets the doctor’s billing practices. Melgen has denied any wrongdoing.
In October, Melgen’s company gave $25,000 each to the Camden and Essex County Democratic committees, $37,000 to the Passaic County Democratic Committee, and $16,500 to the Union County Democratic Committee, according to public records filed with New Jersey’s Election Law Enforcement Commission. Melgen’s company turns up on the filings as Vitreo-Retinal Consultants.
That exceeds the combined total that Melgen, his wife Flor and their daughter Melissa, gave to Menendez directly and indirectly through various channels dating back to the 1990s. These include direct campaign contributions totaling $31,600, contributions to Menendez’s leadership PAC totaling $15,000 and donations totaling $50,000 to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.
In addition, Melgen and his wife gave $60,400 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee when Menendez was its chairman. And National Journal reported that the two also donated $40,000 to Menendez’s legal defense fund. Add that to the $700,000 that Melgen’s eye center gave to the super PAC known as Majority PAC last year, and Melgen’s indirect and direct aid to Menendez clears $1 million.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.