According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average monthly expenses for a married couple with no children amount to $6337. About 60% of this number comprises the costs of housing, transportation and food. It is common financial advice these days that a household maintain approximately six months of such expenses as cash at hand for an extreme emergency situation including a loss of your job or a severe natural disaster that impedes a family’s ability to pay their bills. Even my crude mathematical skills tells me that you should be able to easily get $38 grand if such situations arise.
Given these numbers, it is hard to figure how New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez thought he needed to keep $480,000 in his house (not to mention the $100,000 worth of gold bars) when federal authorities searched it in connection with the investigation into bribery and corruption allegations that led to a federal indictment of Menendez and his wife, Nadine Arslanian Menendez. Granted, Menendez draws a salary of only $174,000 for his Senate gig, a lot for most, but a mere pittance for a couple that has to maintain a fairly affluent lifestyle in the circles they travel. But still, that’s a lot of extra cash for anyone to keep under the mattress.
The facts are fairly straightforward. Menendez, at the behest of his second wife, helped out a “friend” to obtain the exclusive right to inspect foods exported to Egypt for compliance with Halal standards. He also used his powerful position as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to ensure the U.S. cover that country’s perceived military needs. But the messy scandal took on a new and ugly twist as it was revealed that part of the alleged scheme was a $60,000 Mercedes Benz convertible that Nadine badly needed since she had damaged her own car in a crash that killed a pedestrian in Bogota, NJ that seems to have been the subject of a suspicious whitewash.
Of course Menendez has been here before. His 2018 trial for receiving campaign contributions and numerous expensive favors from a opthalmologist friend whose girlfriends had complicated visa issues ended in a hung jury and a mistrial. The DOJ decided to drop the charges and not retry Menendez. And even though the reported facts would seem to make the current indictment a clear cut case for the Government, the Supreme Court has decidedly narrowed the scope for making out a public corruption charge when it held, in a case involving former Republican Governor Bob McConnell of Virginia, that a bribe or other favor to a public official must be tied to a specific quid pro quo.
Menendez’s defense seems to rest on the notion that it is a public official’s job to help constituents. But I doubt that many New Jerseyans standing in line outside his office hoping he will help in getting visas for their relatives or looking for help to support their home countries military are getting much of a response.
The charges against the Menendezes do represent some refutation that the current DOJ is in business to conduct partisan witch hunts against Republicans (especially one certain ex-President). Maybe the purported facts of their case were just too blatant to ignore. But there is one group that may be disappointed by the developments. Contractors or service providers working on Bob’s home will no longer be able to get paid in cash. They may have to settle for gold bars.