New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez has established a legal defense fund aimed at raising money to help fend off a tea party effort aimed at removing him from office.
In new papers filed with the secretary of the Senate, Menendez’s attorney Marc Elias says the legal fund’s “sole purpose” will be “defraying the costs that have been and will be incurred in connection with the Committee to Recall Robert Menendez v. Wells.”
Instead of using money from his campaign warchest ahead of his 2012 reelection bid, setting up a legal defense fund will allow Menendez to tap into his donor base to raise money aimed mainly at paying off his mounting legal bills. It’s not unusual for senators to set up such funds - Nevada Sen. John Ensign has been raising money through a legal defense fund to pay off lawyers defending him in criminal and ethics investigations stemming from an extramarital affair.
But the tea party activists targeting Menendez have been unsuccessful in the courts so far, and now want the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
Afshin Mohamadi, a spokesman for Menendez, would not quantify the senator’s legal expenses.
“This tea party organization’s effort is part of a larger national campaign to target those who are leading the fight against special interests and to drain their campaign resources,” Mohamadi said. “It is run by Washington-based, corporate-backed special interest groups. This type of fund is common and is a necessary defense against such well-heeled organizations.”
The Committee to Recall U.S. Senator Robert Menendez named in its lawsuit Nina Wells, a former New Jersey Secretary of State, who last year rejected the organization’s petition drive.
If successful in the courts, the effort could be emulated by other groups against other senators.
But the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in a 4-2 decision last November that doing so would be unconstitutional.
“The Framers rejected a recall provision and denied the states the power to recall U.S. senators,” Stuart Rabner, the state Supreme Court justice, wrote in the majority opinion.
Sussex County Tea Party Patriots founder RoseAnn Salanitri, who heads up the recall effort, told POLITICO at the time that the ruling marked “a sad and dark day in the history of this court.”
The tea party activists said they would take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Menendez’s office believes the chances are small that the high court would take up the matter.
Still, the establishment of the fund could be a sign that the senator is gearing up for such a possibility.