By Gary R’nel

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez this may be mission impossible: To assist in the restoration of constituency faith in our elected representatives. To restore trust in the fiefdom that is known as Capitol Hill and its resident lawmakers. His colleagues in the Senate should demand that he step aside in reaction to a 68 page indictment.

The indictment documents gifts and favors exchanged by the Senator and Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Dominican-born eye surgeon who invested heavily in Mr. Menendez’s political career. Quid Pro Quo was the order of the day for both men.

The two were indicted for one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the travel act, eight counts of bribery and three counts of honest services fraud; Menendez was also charged with one count of making false statements. The most damning portion of the indictment charts Menendez’s advocacy on behalf of Dr. Melgen when federal officials, in 2009, found that he had overbilled Medicare by nearly $9 million. Menendez traveled to the Dominican Republic aboard Dr. Melgen’s private jet, one of a series of such trips he failed to disclose. Also in 2012, federal prosecutors maintain Menendez’s staff contacted the State Department to protect Dr.Melgen’s interest in a Dominican cargo screening company.

Menendez has said he’s innocent, noting that he has been friends with Melgen for more than 20 years and that the two families have spent holidays and other special occasions together.

He charged that prosecutors “don’t know the difference between friendship and corruption and have chosen to twist my duties as a senator and my friendship into something that is improper.”

An existential threat to our democracy and representative form of government arises when citizens are overwhelmed by a feeling of mistrust in elected officials and feel increasingly disenfranchised from the political process. When constituent apathy reaches a plateau that encourages diminished voter turnout, the very structure of our government is threatened. The concentration among the elite in power is fortified. Our representative form of government is under duress.

Only 36 percent of eligible voters voted in this year’s midterm elections, down from 40 percent who voted in 2010.
There is no other developed democracy in the world that, when it holds an election in which all of the seats in a lower house are on the ballot, has a turnout of less than half of its eligible voters. In the last presidential election, 57 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. Our forefathers would be mortified.

Senator Menendez, the charges in this indictment are the very reason why fewer Americans participate in the electoral process. Mistrust in government and those who represent it. You are entitled to defend what you perceive to be your innocence. You are not entitled to further disenfranchise your constituents. Resign now.

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