What about Bob Menendez?

bob menendez picture

If Israel pulls the trigger, will the US supply the bullets? As bipartisan support in Washington ramps up for war with Iran, Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, is leading the charge. Jamal Abdi of the National Iranian American Council reports:

New legislation introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) calls for the U.S. to provide military, economic, and diplomatic support for Israel should its government decide to launch military strikes on Iran. The measure would effectively signal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can decide not just whether to enter Israel into war with Iran, but whether the United States enters such a war. It comes as tentative diplomatic progress was reported from negotiations involving the U.S. and Iran.

The unprecedented measure is being unveiled as part of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference this weekend in Washington, DC, that will bring thousands of the group’s supporters to push the measure on Capitol Hill. The group will also support a new sanctions bill in the House that could authorize the U.S. to sanction companies, including in Europe and Asia, for any commercial dealings with Iran. That measure has raised concerns about further exacerbating medicine shortages impacting the people of Iran.

The Graham resolution is framed as a non-binding measure aimed at encouraging the President to implement and escalate sanctions on Iran. But the final clause “urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.”

The bill will likely please one of Menendez’s largest donors, NORPAC (ninth), which advocates for foreign aid to Israel and sanctions on Iran, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia. NORPAC — the North Jersey Political Action Committee — acts as the campaign arm of AIPAC, which lobbies for and against legislation. Marsha Cohen of Lobe Log describes them this way:

Although the two organizations have remained separate and distinct, there’s been an overlap of talking points, priorities and modus operandi. NORPAC’s leaders describe it as a “single issue” organization, dedicated exclusively to promulgating the passage of Israel-related legislation, of which anti-Iran sanctions have become an integral part.

So who else gives money to Menendez? According to OpenSecrets.org, the two top industries donating to Menendez are law and real estate, with many of the individual contributors coming from in-state. The New Jersey Senator’s top donor, contributing nearly $300,000 to his campaigns since 1992, is corporate law firm Lowenstein Sandler, which originated in Newark and now has its headquarters in Roseland. Teaneck’s general service firm DeCotiis, FitzPatrick & Cole ranked second with $172,000. International partnership Greenberg Traurig (fifth) gave $141,000, while Secaucus real estate law and litigation experts Waters McPherson McNeill (17th) put in $83,500. Hackensack contractors J. Fletcher Creamer & Son (seventh) added $120,000.

Financial companies deposit plenty of funds into Menedez’s accounts. These include multinational investment bank Goldman Sachs (third), insurance giant Prudential Financial (fourth), and Swiss banking titan UBS (12th). In addition, the Senator receives backing from some of the country’s largest unions: the AFL-CIO-affiliated Laborers International Union (14th), the Teamsters (15th), and government workers’ union AFSCME (20th).

Quite a few of his major contributors, aside from the law firms mentioned above, originate in or are New Jersey-based. These include Newark gas and electric utility Public Service Enterprise Group (eighth) and Hackensack’s United Water (18th); the Spanish Broadcasting System (tenth), founded in Newark; Maher Terminals (11th), which ships from the Port of New York and New Jersey; and pharmaceutical corporation Schering-Plough (19th), based in Kenilworth.

Other big Menendez donors are telecom players Verizon (sixth) and AT&T (16th) and military suppliers Applied Companies (13th).

Levin’s bread

carl levin press conference

Got some time to kill? Drone assassination czar and torture proponent John Brennan will appear Thursday, February 7, before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as it considers his nomination for Director of the CIA. Among his interrogators will be Senator Carl Levin, an advocate of decreasing government secrecy but a supporter of indefinite detention even of US citizens. Human Rights First reports that a dozen former interrogators have written a letter requesting that Levin and other members question Brennan specifically about torture:

We know from experience that torture is unreliable, unlawful and un-American. But, does Mr. Brennan?

In 2007, Mr. Brennan said on The Early Show that approximately one-third of the 100 terrorism suspects held by the CIA were subject by CIA officers to “enhanced interrogation tactics,” which is a euphemism for torture. In the same interview, he claimed that information gotten through enhanced interrogation “has saved lives.”

Mr. Brennan was Deputy Executive Director of the CIA from 2001-2003 when the Bush administration adopted torture as an interrogation tactic. What role did Mr. Brennan play in the development, review or approval of what he has called “enhanced interrogation?”

In preparation for the hearing, as well as for the budget battles of the coming month, I decided to look at Levin’s top donors. Automobile companies lead in donating money to the Michigan Senator’s numerous campaigns. Detroit multinational General Motors was his top donor with $120,800, just ahead of Dearborn-based Ford. DaimlerChrysler came in fourth with just under $80,000. (Daimler sold Chrysler in 2007.) The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee also receives contributions from defense contractors General Dynamics (seventh) and Lockheed Martin (18th).

Unions feature prominently in Levin’s top twenty list. Teachers’ union the National Education Association ranks 13th with $43,000, followed by the construction workers’ Laborers’ Union (14th) and the Sheet Metal Workers’ International (15th). AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, came in 19th; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ranked 20th.

Political action committees advocating close support of Israel by the US make up Levin’s second largest source of campaign funds. These include individual organizations such as the Join Action Committee for Political Affairs (12th) and The Washington PAC (16th). The legal industry is his largest financial pool, with donors such as Michigan business law firm Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn (sixth), multinational legal giant DLA Piper (tenth), and trial lawyers’ lobby the American Association for Justice (17th).

Health insurance behemoth Blue Cross Blue Shield (third) gave Levin just under $100,000. Security firm Guardsmark ranked fifth and real estate developers Forest City Enterprises eighth. Detroit utility DTE Energy (ninth) and Jackson-based utility CMS Energy (eleventh) notably made billions from 2008-2010 and spent millions to lobby Congress, then paid no income taxes, actually receiving millions back in rebates.

Absent from this list are financial firms such as JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, whose practices Levin’s committee has been investigating for some time. Although the Senator has received half a million over his career from securities and investment corporations, they don’t make an appearance on his top twenty list of donors.