On Sept. 28, a district court judge dismissed four bribery counts against Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and his donor, Florida eye doctor Salomon Meglen. However, he refused to dismiss 18 other counts against the two men.
One of the motions District Court Judge William Walls denied was a move to toss out charges regarding the senator exchanging official acts for super PAC contibutions, The Huffington Post reports. The senator's lawyers had asked the court to dismiss the charges regarding Menendez's solicitation of $700,000 from Meglen for a Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC which made independent expenditures to support Menendez's effort to get reelected in 2012.
Menendez's lawyers attempted to use the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United and 2013 McCutcheon decisions as a basis for dismissal - two cases that redefined corruption as only explicit bribery, meaning that access and influence were excluded from the definition.
Menendez is accused of doing numerous political favors for Meglen in exchange for campaign contributions, vacations and private jet flights. The duo have pleaded not guilty, and Walls dismissed the allegations that a $40,000 donation from Meglen to Menendez's legal fund was bribery.
Walls did, however, refuse to dismiss a number of other counts related to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations a corporation run by Meglen made to the Senate Majority PAC in an effort to get Menendez reelected. Walls alleged that the donations were tied to official actions that Menendez made on Meglen's behalf after he was reelected.
For example, Mendendez met with Health and Human Services officials over a multi-million dollar Medicare billing dispute Meglen was facing, and he pressured officials to honor a port security contract in which Meglen held a stake, Politico reports.
In the Citizens United ruling, the court essentially ruled that political spending is a form of free speech that is protected under the First Amendment, and the government may not limit corporations spending in support of (or against) individual candidates. Many hope that corruption cases like Menendez's could provide the legal stepping stones that could lead to a potential reversal of the Citizens United decision.