Menendez Asked Justice to Delay Merger Opposed by Donor

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Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ., walks to a classified briefing.

Sen. Robert Menendez contacted the U.S. Justice Department in an effort to delay a proposed merger opposed by one of his biggest campaign contributors, according to a letter obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Menendez and two House colleagues urged then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in September 2002 to postpone any decision “until a complete review of the merger can be done,” according to the letter.  It followed an identical letter sent to  Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell, which Bloomberg reported on here.

Menendez, then a U.S. representative, was aligned with Spanish Broadcasting System Inc. in objecting to a merger between Univision Communications Inc. and Hispanic Broadcasting Corp. At the time, Menendez owned from $1,000 to $15,000 in SBS stock.

The lawmakers argued that the merger would result in consolidation in Spanish-language media market. In testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee in July 2003, the New Jersey Democrat said the deal would “create unacceptable market power in Spanish-language media.”

In the end,  both the Justice Department and FCC approved the union. In its Sept. 22, 2003 decision, the FCC said Spanish-language media competes with English-language broadcasters and listeners and viewers have access to both.

Since Menendez’s first race for the House in 1992, SBS employees and their families have given $113,700 to his congressional races, making them his 10th-largest source of campaign contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington research group that tracks donations.  They also donated $38,000 to Menendez’s leadership PAC — a fund that pays travel costs and makes donations to other candidates’ campaigns — from 1999 to 2012, according to a computer-assisted analysis of Federal Election Commission data.

A Menendez spokeswoman, Tricia Enright, said in March that the contributions and holdings had nothing to do with the lawmaker’s actions.

“Senator Menendez — and many others — opposed the Univision-HBC merger because he has long believed media consolidations can lead to the shrinking of community voices, and his investment in SBS, which was fully disclosed publicly at the time, had nothing to do with that position.”

Attention has recently been focused on Menendez’s activities on behalf of donors as he faces questions about actions he took for a wealthy Florida donor and friend, doctor Salomon Melgen.

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