POLITICS

Sen. Menendez added $400K for legal defense fund in 1st quarter of 2015

FILE - In this April 14, 2015, file photo, Sen.  Robert Menendez, D-N.J. speaks with members of the media on Capitol Hill in Washington. Menendez, facing a federal indictment on bribery and corruption charges, reported his legal defense fund has raised nearly $1.3 million since it was launched last year and $430,000 from the start of this year until the day before he was indicted. Menendez, a Democrat, has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to fight the indictment, which alleges he helped his longtime friend and co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, with his business dealings in exchange for trips to a lavish villa in the Dominican Republic and campaign donations. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

FILE - In this April 14, 2015, file photo, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. speaks with members of the media on Capitol Hill in Washington. Menendez, facing a federal indictment on bribery and corruption charges, reported his legal defense fund has raised nearly $1.3 million since it was launched last year and $430,000 from the start of this year until the day before he was indicted. Menendez, a Democrat, has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to fight the indictment, which alleges he helped his longtime friend and co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, with his business dealings in exchange for trips to a lavish villa in the Dominican Republic and campaign donations. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)  ((AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File))

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, facing a federal indictment on bribery and corruption charges, reported his legal defense fund has raised nearly $1.3 million since it was launched last year and $430,000 from the start of this year until the day before he was indicted.

Menendez, a Democrat, has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to fight the indictment, which alleges he helped his longtime friend and co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, with his business dealings in exchange for trips to a lavish villa in the Dominican Republic and campaign donations.

A filing with the IRS and the Senate covers money raised and spent from Jan. 1 through March 31. News of the pending indictment was first reported in March.

In the first quarter of this year, Menendez spent $100,000 for the Washington law firm McDermott Will & Emery and paid a fundraiser $7,500, according to financial records released Wednesday.

The senator's legal defense fund was formed on Jan. 31, 2014, and hauled in about $870,000 that year and spent about $500,000 in the latter half of the year, mostly on legal services, IRS documents show. In the third quarter, the fund paid $158,000 to the Washington-based law firm Coburn and Greenbaum and $127,000 to McDermott Will & Emery.

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The legal spending is just a part of the senator's public defense against the Department of Justice's 14-count indictment.

Almost immediately after the indictment was made public, the state Democratic Party blasted out supportive statements from elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and U.S. Rep. Albio Sires. Menendez's allies also launched the IStandwithBob Twitter hashtag and istandwithbob.com, which is paid for through Menendez's campaign account.

His supporters say the swift reaction was in response to widespread leaks in the media before the charges were announced.

Menendez's flush defense account should not come as a surprise, political experts say. As the former chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and New Jersey's senior senator, he has a lot of clout, said Fairleigh Dickinson University political science professor Krista Jenkins.

"If he beats it the last thing you would want to be is someone who didn't donate to the defense fund," she said.

Jenkins also pointed out that the indictment comes in the middle of Menendez's six-year term.

"There's plenty of time for him to regain his political strength," Jenkins said. "This is not coming during a hotly contested election."

Melgen, an ophthalmologist with offices in Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties, has pleaded not guilty in the New Jersey corruption case, in which he's accused of funneling nearly $1 million in gifts and campaign donations to Menendez in exchange for political favors. He also was indicted this week on Medicare fraud charges.

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