Politics

Mum's the bad word: Most big Menendez donors won't say if they will keep backing New Jersey senator

Key Points
  • Many of the top financial donors to U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez will not say whether they will continue supporting his campaign in the face of a scathing federal bribery indictment against the New Jersey Democrat.
  • Menendez has refused to resign despite a growing number of such calls from Senate Democratic colleagues.
  • The senator's political operation has received donations from Pfizer, Goldman Sachs, Prudential Financial, Merck and many other corporations.
  • Menendez was the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until he stepped down after the indictment. He remains on that committee, as well as on the powerful Banking and Finance committees.
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) delivers remarks, after he and his wife Nadine Menendez were indicted on bribery offenses in connection with their corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen, in Union City, New Jersey, U.S., September 25, 2023. 
Mike Segar | Reuters

Many of the top financial donors to U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez will not say whether they will continue supporting his campaign in the face of a scathing federal bribery indictment against the New Jersey Democrat.

Just one out of the more than a dozen major political action committees and individuals that historically have backed Menendez told CNBC they would still contribute to him as he seeks reelection next year.

The pro-Israel NorPAC told donors in a memo Friday hours after Menendez was indicted that, "It is our intention to continue to support his re-election efforts."

One individual, Baleon Capital founder Jon Kaiden, told CNBC in an email he does not plan to support Menendez in his campaign.

Kaiden donated $10,800 to the Menendez Victory Fund in 2021, according to a Federal Election Commission filing.

The other PACs and individuals did not respond or comment directly when CNBC asked if they would continue to donate to Menendez.

Menendez was the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until he stepped down following the indictment, as Democratic caucus rules require.

But he remains on that committee, as well as on the powerful Banking and Finance committees.

His presence on those panels has made him a favored recipient of donations from U.S. corporations' PACs, and PACs focused on foreign affairs.

Since 2017, the top 10 PAC donors to Menendez have given him more than $280,000.

Since he was indicted last week in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Menendez has insisted he will not resign, and that he will continue his reelection campaign.

By Tuesday afternoon, nearly 20 Democratic senators, among them Cory Booker of New Jersey, urged him to resign from the Senate as he fights the criminal charges.

Several top party donors have privately told Menendez's campaign that he should resign, according to a longtime past supporter who spoke with CNBC.

Menendez, who is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday, has raised more than $18 million through his campaign and leadership political action committee since 2017, according to data from OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan research group.

PACs are a key resource for many candidates running for office.

The Federal Election Commission allows PACs to give up to $5,000 directly toward a campaign of their choosing in either the primary or general election seasons. An individual donor can only give up to $3,300 during either of those seasons.

NorPAC has been a major Menendez fundraiser for years. The PAC so far has raised about $300,000 for Menendez's 2024 reelection campaign, according to its president, Dr. Ben Chouake.

NorPAC has donated a combined $15,500 toward the Menendez campaign and separate leadership PAC since 2017, according to OpenSecrets data.

And the PAC raised over $500,000 for Menendez's successful 2018 reelection effort, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Chouake defended the PAC's decision to stick with Menendez in an interview with CNBC.

"We've known the senator for about 30 years, which is a pretty long time," he said.

"We've always been impressed with his knowledge and his work ethic, and his integrity. He is probably the most knowledgeable person in the country on foreign affairs," Chouake said.

The PAC chief added, "We are very much believers of innocent until proven guilty."

Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, has donated $40,000 through its corporate PAC to Menendez's campaign and his leadership PAC since 2017, when he last sought reelection.

When asked whether the company plans to donate toward Menendez's current reelection bid, a Pfizer spokeswoman said only, "We regularly evaluate our PAC giving to ensure consistency with our PAC bylaws for all federal and state contributions."

Prudential Financial has donated $35,000 through their PAC toward Menendez's political operation since 2017, according to OpenSecrets.

A Prudential spokeswoman declined to comment when asked whether the company's PAC would continue to support Menendez following his indictment.

A Goldman Sachs spokesman likewise declined to comment when asked if the major Wall Street bank will donate to Menendez again. Goldman Sachs' PAC since 2017 has donated more than $12,000 to Menendez's election efforts, according to FEC records.

Representatives for Comcast, AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Merck, General Atomics, Greenberg Traurig and Holtec International did not return requests for comment when asked if they would continue making donations to Menendez.

DisclosureComcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.