As you already know from even casual reading of this site (or if you own a television) New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez has run into some legal problems which have led to… well, let’s just that it’s complicated, shall we? But as the somewhat dubious tradition of This Town has it, once you get in that sort of trouble it is the accepted practice for your abashed friends and colleges to give back any money you donated to their campaigns and causes.
This process already got underway this week. Money donated to other candidates by Menendez’s New Millennium PAC has been flying off the shelves as if everyone just realized it has cooties. A group of veterans charities in Colorado will be seeing a windfall of $10K from Senator Michael Bennet, equal to the amount which he received from the indicted senator. That’s great news for them, but how much distance it puts between Menendez and Bennet is anybody’s guess. Minnesota’s own Senator Amy Klobuchar has picked up the pace and is sending her campaign cash directly back to the source. In the bonus round, it turns out that Senator Kobuchar also received some money directly from Dr. Salomon Melgen and is sending that back as well. (For those who missed the original story, Dr. Melgen is the “friend with benefits” of Menendez who received numerous advantages while showering his friend the Senator with very nice gifts.)
And yet, not everyone is in such a hurry to cut their ties with Menendez. Senator Joe Sestak has apparently decided that spent money is money well spent and we should all just get on with our lives. This practice has become something of an albatross around the necks of politicians and everyone plays the same game, so there’s nothing new or unusual going on here. But in this one rare case, I’m not going to come down all that hard on Sestak, and the reason is that it would be rather inconsistent of me to do so. For purposes of this discussion I have to stand by my previous contention that money is fungible.
This isn’t all that dissimilar to the debate which was going on when I went on the Daily Show to talk about donations from Baker Hughes to Komen for the Cure. They were making a big deal about money from a company that “causes cancer” (an absurd accusation to begin with) going to a group which is purportedly fighting cancer. My argument was that money is money… it’s not where it came from that matters, but how it is eventually used. In this case, should the veterans groups not benefit from the money they will be receiving just because it originally came from Menendez? I say they should spend it and do some good.
Even if some of the actual dollars in the New Millennium PAC coffers came from Dr. Melgen or any other questionable source, if it is spent in a legal fashion then it went to do something legal, if not admirable. And while I wouldn’t consider donations which serve to keep Bennet, Klobuchar or Sestak in office to be in my best interest, they are clearly not illegal if they stay within FEC guidelines. The more interesting part of the dance is the task of figuring out just how close these politicians are and how many of their other interests intersect. You might find a story there, but their act of giving back the money doesn’t change the fact that they were all on the same team and working toward the same goals. Erasing a few donations doesn’t wash that away.