Bob Menendez Is Blowing Campaign Gold on Lawyers—and Pricey Steaks

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters/Getty

Fighting to keep himself out of prison has cost Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) a lot—but not his appetite, campaign finance records show.

The embattled Democrat, now on trial for allegations he accepted gold bars and envelopes of cash from New Jersey businessmen in exchange for favors for them and their patrons in Egypt and Qatar, spent $2 million on legal fees in April, the latest filings show. This figure represents more than a third of his entire warchest accrued over 18 years in the U.S. Senate, and comes on top of $1 million the campaign gave the firm in November—all before the actual courtroom action started earlier this month.

But these swelling expenses, and the anemic $95,538.86 the campaign has raised so far this year, hasn’t kept the senator from dining on his donors’ dime: his New Millennium Political Action Committee has picked up eight checks totalling $7,012.51 this year at Morton’s Steakhouse in D.C., a favorite Menendez hangout where the filet mignon starts at $56 and the tomahawks top out at $139.

That’s in addition to a $286.56 bill the campaign covered at the chain beef joint in March, $1,489.22 the two committees spent at three Jersey eateries in January, $1,500.00 allocated to catering from Carmine’s Italian Restaurant in the District that same month, and $464.24 blown at the hyper-private 116 Club near Capitol Hill on May 6.

A Menendez spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about what his go-to order is, who has joined him for these meals, and whether he put the whole check on the campaign card or split the bills with his companions.

But thanks to lax federal campaign finance rules and enforcement, there’s no reason that the staggering cost of counsel or the threat of a prison sentence for operating as an agent of authoritarian foreign powers should take a bite out of Menendez’s lifestyle any time soon.

A campaign finance lawyer told The Daily Beast that so long as Menendez can claim his meals were meetings serving some campaign or government purpose, he can continue to put them on his committees’ tab—and the definition of what constitutes an official meeting is “very elastic,” Brett Kappel of the firm Harmon Curran said.

In fact, even if expenses devoured the entire campaign fund, Menendez could continue to run up charges on the committees’ cards (the two have paid $29,076.17 to Chase and American Express in 2024) and welsh on the bills. The companies could cancel the accounts, and complain to the Federal Election Commission, but probably would never get their money back.

“The FEC typically rejects those kinds of complaints,” Kappel said. “The candidate is not personally liable for the debts of the campaign.”

In fact, little in federal campaign finance regulations prevents Menendez from doing the same to his lawyers. Kappel noted that the failed 1984 presidential campaign of the late Sen. John Glenn (D-OH) racked up millions in debt and never paid it off.

If Menendez burns out his campaign account, either on his own defense or on lawyers for his wife, who is being tried separately for her part in the conspiracy due to health reasons, he could similarly report the attorney fees as outstanding campaign debt—since, after all, “these are criminal charges arising out of his status as a federal officeholder,” Kappel said.

"He could theoretically list them as campaign debts and never pay them, just file FEC reports every four months,” the veteran campaign finance attorney said. “The actual deadline is when the lawyers refuse to do any more work, because they need to get paid.”

But even to extricate themselves from the case, Kappel noted, the attorneys would need permission from the judge.

For now, however, Menendez’s campaign has $3.57 million to draw on for lawyers and steaks alike.

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