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Enron-Connected Billionaire Tries to Bail Out Bob Menendez in New Jersey Senate Race

Bob Menendez
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

A billionaire former hedge fund manager is trying to bail out Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in his tightly contested Senate race in New Jersey against Republican nominee Bob Hugin.

John Arnold, the 43-year-0ld Texan who made his first million at Enron, has contributed more than $3 million to a Super PAC that began running $1.9 million in attack ads against Hugin in the Philadelphia and New York television markets last week, philly.com reports.

“Arnold, of Houston, isn’t a household name on either side of the political spectrum. Since retiring in 2012 at age 38, the onetime trader at the now-defunct energy company Enron has supported progressives, such as Barack Obama, but also angered traditional Democratic constituencies, such as public workers, with his support for changing government retirement plans and promotion of charter schools,” according to philly.com:

Much of the pot has been stirred through Action Now Initiative, the Houston-based nonprofit Arnold and his wife, Laura, founded in 2011. Records show that Action Now, registered with the IRS as a “social welfare organization,” has passed $3.1 million to Patients for Affordable Drugs Action, the super PAC that produced the ads against Hugin.

Among the Arnolds’ most recent initiatives was providing funding to advance and defend [Philadelphia] Mayor Kenney’s tax on soda and other sweetened beverages. In 2016, tax filings show, Action Now Initiative gave $400,000 to Philadelphians for a Fair Future, a nonprofit that promotes the soda tax and lobbied for its passage.

And the Arnold Foundation donated $500,000 to Philadelphia to help pay for legal fees defending the tax in court against a lawsuit filed by the American Beverage Association. At the time, the city described the unsolicited donation as an important “counterbalance” to the beverage industry’s “intimidation.” The city spent $1.7 million on outside counsel legal fees, according to the Law Department. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the tax this month.

According to a 2017 profile in Wired magazine, Arnold says the first 38 years of his life was “100 percent trying to make money.” Now, Arnold says he wants to spend the rest of his life “100 percent trying to do good.”

Arnold’s idea of “doing good” this election cycle is to come to the political rescue of Sen. Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who was rebuked in a public letter of admonition from the Senate Ethics Committee and barely escaped an indictment for public corruption after a mistrial was declared in November on charges brought against him by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ decided not to try Menendez again in January after the presiding judge dismissed several of the charges against Menendez.

The Senate Ethics Committee rebuke of Menendez in April was withering, but toothless:

The Senate Ethics Committee slapped the wrist of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) on Thursday in a Public Letter of Admonition.

Despite concluding in the letter that Menendez “knowingly and repeatedly accepted gifts of significant value from Dr. Melgen” and that he “failed to publicly disclose certain gifts as required by Senate Rule and federal law,” and that he used his “position as a Member of the Senate to advance Dr. Melgen’s personal and business interests” in violation of “Senate Rules, federal law, and applicable standards of conduct,” the Committee members let the senior Senator from New Jersey off the hook, virtually scot free.

The Committee did, however direct Menendez “to repay the fair market value of all impermissible gifts not already repaid.” The exact amount of how much those additional repayments will be is uncertain. In 2013 Menendez repaid Melgen $58,500 for two flights to the Dominican Republic Melgen had provided him in 2010.

The legal case against Menendez was compelling, and despite the DOJ’s decision not to retry Menendez, a number of questions about Mendendez’s conduct remain, and Hugin has kept those questions front and center, as Breitbart News reported:

On Monday, Hugin attacked Menendez with both barrels on Twitter.

He first noted that Menendez’s “colleagues on the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee agree he violated federal law & abused his power to help his ‘best friend’ Melgen, a convicted felon serving 17 yrs in jail for scamming millions from Medicare.”

Next, he blasted Menendez for “violating federal law and abusing his office to help his felon best friend.”

Hugin hit Menendez again, this time tweeting that “Bob Menendez abused his office to help a rich Florida donor who scammed seniors and blinded patients so he could scam millions from Medicare.”                       .

Hugin has continued to aggressively attack Menendez for the unethical conduct on which the federal justice system allowed him to skate earlier this year, and those attacks appear to be resonating with New Jersey voters.

The attack ads against Hugin by the SuperPAC funded by Texas billionaire Arnold make no mention of Menendez. Instead, they focus on Hugin’s role as an executive at a pharmaceutical company that increased the prices of some of its drugs used in the treatment of patients with cancer.

The most recent poll of likely voters, conducted by Gravis Marketing between July 6 and July 10, shows Menendez leading Hugin by just 2 points, 42 percent to 40 percent, which is within the poll’s 4.1 percent margin of error.

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