Menendez: Menendez faces complaint about actions as a shareholder

Menendez faces complaint about actions as a shareholder
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Two Republican state lawmakers filed a formal ethics complaint yesterday, accusing U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez of using his previous seat in Congress to protect the value of a stock he owned.

State Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington) and Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose (R-Sussex) claim Menendez violated House ethics rules by working to prevent a $3.5 billion merger of Univision and Hispanic Broadcasting Corp. in 2003 while owning stock in the rival Spanish Broadcasting System. The Federal Communications Commission ultimately approved the merger.

Aides to Menendez called the complaint baseless and said it is part of a mudslinging effort by "lackeys" of Menendez's rival, state Sen. Tom Kean Jr.

"The Republican playbook this year is to run smear campaigns across the country," Menendez spokesman Matt Miller said. He said Kean "has shown George Bush and the Washington Republicans that he is the boy wonder of smear campaigns."

Menendez owned between $16,000 and $65,000 worth of stock in the Spanish Broadcasting System, according to his financial disclosure statements. The Univision merger hit those holdings hard. Menendez sold off the SBS stock this year, Miller said, after it lost half its value.

Menendez also received more than $140,000 in campaign contributions from SBS and its executives between 1991 and 2005. That represented about 40 percent of its total contributions to federal candidates during that period.

Allen and McHose said the stock holdings and campaign donations should have been reason for Menendez to stay out of the fight, not lobby on behalf of SBS.

Menendez was one of three members of Congress who sent a letter to the FCC asking the agency to reject the merger. He testified before a Senate committee in opposition to the consolidation and introduced a resolution in the House that would have made such mergers more difficult.

"It is an egregious breach of ethics. It's very clear," Allen said of Menendez's actions.

Added McHose, "It makes you wonder if there was a quid pro quo."

Miller insisted Menendez's opposition to the merger had nothing to do with his personal or campaign finances.

Throughout his career, Menendez has opposed media consolidation because it limits the diversity of voices, Miller said. He said that after the merger, Univision radio and TV stations commanded 70 percent of the U.S. Spanish-speaking audience.

Miller also said the ethics complaint was "bogus" because House rules do not require members to recuse themselves on matters involving companies in which they hold stock. A member's interest as a stockholder in a company is "too small and diffuse" to require abstaining from a vote, according to the campaign's legal advisers.

But Allen said Menendez crossed the line by advocating for the company in which he owned stock and stood to benefit.

The ethics complaint is the second Republicans in New Jersey have filed against Menendez. Two weeks ago, Assemblymen Guy Gregg and Richard Merkt of Morris County alleged Menendez broke conflict-of-interest rules by collecting more than $300,000 in rent from a nonprofit agency that received millions of dollars in federal funding with his help.

Last week The Star-Ledger reported that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark had issued subpoenas to the agency, the North Hudson Community Action Corp., seeking records concerning the rental agreement.

The report sparked rumblings about the possibility that Menendez, like Sen. Robert Torricelli in 2004, might withdraw from the race, a scenario Menendez flatly denied.

The state Republican committee said the Democrats should be stuck with Menendez because they elected him in the primary.

In announcing the ethics complaint yesterday, McHose dissented from that view.

"He should get out of the race," she said. "This is a further indication he is ethically challenged. ... We don't need a U.S. Senate candidate who's going to bring more embarrassment to the state of New Jersey."

The Elections Law Enforcement Commission calendar shows Monday as the deadline for a candidate nominated in a partisan primary election to withdraw from a race. The deadline for the party to replace the candidate is Wednesday.

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