Enter Senator Menendez. He reportedly asked officials at the State Department to lobby Dominican officials to approve the deal. Menendez's chief of staff explained that the senator did nothing unethical. He has always "fought for U.S. companies that are not being treated fairly or have issues pending in other countries."
Except it also emerges that another key beneficiary of the port deal would be Senator Menendez's aide and close associate of 20 years, Pedro Pablo Permuy. Permuy was tapped to run the security company's operations.
It's certainly possible that Senator Menendez always speaks up for abused American companies that aren't getting fair treatment in other countries. But then, there are other explanations for his behavior. Consider that in 2009, according to the Washington Post, Menendez intervened in a federal audit of Dr. Melgen. Melgen was being investigated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for fraud. Menendez protested to investigators that the billing rules were ambiguous.
Last week, the FBI descended upon Dr. Melgen's offices in Miami and carted off dozens of boxes of documents. The FBI may be investigating Medicare fraud, the ports deal, the underage prostitutes or matters we have not yet heard about.
What the story illustrates is the way government power is bent to private purposes. President Obama entered office boasting that lobbyists would be prohibited from serving in his administration -- thus keeping corruption at bay. In fact, the White House has freely granted waivers for the people it wanted, and at least 374 Obama administration officials have cycled through the revolving door.
But as the Menendez story shows, the presence of lobbyists in key posts is beside the point when elected officials misuse their power for friends and cronies. Barring lobbyists is window dressing. Corruption is the handmaiden of government. Remember that on Tuesday evening when the president sings its praises.