Politico goes long this morning with a report finding that Salomon Melgen, the ophthalmologist and political donor who may have received favors from Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, also donated to other politicians! According to the Daily Caller, this is big news.
Melgen, of course, came to national attention after his contract with the government to provide port security in the Dominican Republic was revealed by The New York Times — a contract which Menendez' advocacy appears to have made even more lucrative. Melgen has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the senator and the New Jersey Democratic State Committee over the years, raising legitimate questions about the pair's relationship and the contract.
In a 2,700-word story, Politico's Ken Vogel and Tarini Parti outline all of the other D.C. bigwigs who are guilty by association with Melgen, however tangential. Melgen gave to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2010, for example, allowing him to have his picture taken with the president. On the Scandalometer™, this is a flat zero — particularly because Melgen also subsequently complained to people that Obama didn't talk to him for very long. If it's any consolation for Dr. Melgen, he shouldn't take it personally: the president is known for being dismissive of donors.
Politico also reports that Melgen flew Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to Boston on his private plane for a political action committee event, for which Melgen was reimbursed by Majority PAC for $4,160. Incidentally, Politico only learned who the passenger was once Majority PAC told them it was Reid, and there's no evidence Melgen accompanied Reid. Scandalometer™ rating? Maybe one, depending on how you feel about elected officials renting private jet time.
Among the other revelations? "While he was glad-handing politicians, Melgen was living the high life." This may be because he is a wealthy doctor. Also: Melgen founded a Latino news site! It is called Voxxi, if you're curious. Also: Melgen asked a former CIA official named Marty Martin to help on the port contract deal! The Scandalometer™ rolls its eyes.
But that's because the Scandalometer™ isn't owned and operated by The Daily Caller. The conservative website kicked off criticism of Menendez with its now thoroughly discredited report that Melgen hired prostitutes to service the senator. So if Politico is willing to whip up a lot of smoke, The Daily Caller is more than willing to point to it excitedly. "Obama, Reid dragged into evolving Menendez donor scandal," its headline reads. It's more accurate than it sounds. "Dragged" is appropriate, since they don't really belong there. And "evolving" is an apt term, since the story has "evolved" away from The Daily Caller's sloppy accusations and, thanks to The Times, toward issues of substance. But this is what The Daily Caller does. "Reid’s office insists the trip and reimbursement were legitimate," it writes of the plane rental issue. Lots of not-very-subtle insinuation there.
What Politico revealed today is, in essence, a profile of a mid-level wealthy donor. The FEC suggests that Melgen has given almost $200,000 to candidates and PACs over the past decade. This is what donors do. They buy their way into political conversation and events. Sometimes, as seems to be the case with Melgen, there are ulterior motives. Sometimes, as also seems to be the case, it's about feeling powerful and important. What's important is how the elected officials respond. And — with the alleged exception of Menendez — the officials responded as you might expect, with lip service and superficial gratitude.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.