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[Washington Babylon]

Bob Menendez and Larry Craig: A tale of two senators

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In September, Kay LiCausi, a lobbyist, political consultant and former senior aide to New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, was named as one of the “top forty business people under the age of forty” by NJBIZ magazine. The program, says the magazine’s website, “honors men and women who have been making headlines in their field and who share a commitment to business growth, professional excellence and to the community.”

But this month, LiCausi was the subject of some rather unflattering headlines: the Star-Ledger reported that LiCausi, “who quickly built a successful lobbying business after leaving Menendez’s office,” is now “under scrutiny by federal investigators.”

According to the story:

Federal investigators recently began examining LiCausi’s lobbying contracts with organizations Menendez helped to win government funding. Officials at the Jersey City Medical Center, which received subpoenas, have pledged cooperation with authorities and released information about LiCausi’s earnings . . . Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken has also received a subpoena in the matter. The school paid LiCausi’s firm $123,750 over the past three years, according to lobbying reports.

Yet astonishingly, the story has gotten relatively little press attention, even though it involves Menendez, who is vice chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “There is some lingering suspicion that the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey is a ‘loyal Bushie’ in the worst sense of the term and that the investigation is politically motivated,” says a Washington lawyer who has followed the case. “But Menendez is an old-fashioned city political boss who’s been skating close to the line for years.”

LiCausi went to work for Menendez in 1998, when she was 26 and he was serving in the House. They developed a close friendship. LiCausi left his office in 2002 and money quickly began flowing into her new firm, KL Strategies, from Menendez’s campaign coffers and from his New Millennium Leadership PAC. In 2003, Menendez helped LiCausi win a $130,000 fundraising contract from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. By 2004, PoliticsNJ.com had put LiCausi on its list of “New Jersey’s Best Hired Guns.”

In 2005, the New York Times did a terrific story on the Menendez-LiCausi relationship. “She has amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts as a consultant, lobbyist and fund-raiser,” the story said. “Some of the work was orchestrated by Mr. Menendez . . . Several of her clients are businesses and organizations run by prominent supporters of Mr. Menendez. Other clients need the assistance of the powerful congressman, and Ms. LiCausi has lobbied her former boss on their behalf.”

The story continued:

But what has struck many seasoned politicians and consultants in New Jersey is the speed of Ms. LiCausi’s ascent and the scope of her work, even in the state’s forgiving political culture. She had little experience on Capitol Hill or in Trenton. In her highest position, she supervised a half-dozen members of Mr. Menendez’s Jersey City staff . . . The tale of her swift success, however, is complicated by the widespread belief among elected officials and political consultants in Hudson County and former members of Mr. Menendez’s staff that she and the congressman had a romantic relationship. Both Ms. LiCausi, who is 33 and single, and Mr. Menendez, 51 and recently divorced, refused to address any aspect of their nonprofessional lives. “That’s strictly personal,” Mr. Menendez said.

Whatever Larry Craig did in that bathroom in Minnesota doesn’t come close to being as troubling as the allegations now being investigated about Menendez and LiCausi. The media should be paying much closer attention.

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