Tom DeLay is coming to the aid of another corporate benefactor with a law designed just for them. The details are in this Roll Call article, which requires an account. Here's the key bits, with thanks to AJ Garcia for emailing the article to me.
With help from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Bacardi-Martini Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of the Bermuda-based rum maker, is on the verge of scoring a big victory in the long-running battle over who owns the rights to the legendary "Havana Club" rum label, a victory that could prove very lucrative in a post-Fidel Castro world.
DeLay is lobbying to include language in the 2004 Defense authorization conference report to amend U.S. trademark law to make it comply with a ruling by the World Trade Organization last year that threatened Bacardiís claim to the Havana Club brand.
Opponents of DeLayís proposal point out that his measure was never vetted by any committee in either the House or the Senate, and benefits Bacardi alone, and they claim it could potentially harm U.S. companies that have intellectual or property claims in Cuba.
DeLay aides strongly dispute any link between his proposal and Bacardiís donations and say the Texas Republicanís interest in the issue is purely ideological. They point out that DeLay wants to continue the U.S. embargo of Cuba as long as Castro is in power and argue the WTO ruling could give Cuban companies a chance to sell products in this country unless they are specifically blocked from doing so. Jonathan Grella, DeLayís spokesman, said his boss is "working in conjunction with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick" to bring American trademark law into compliance with the WTO ruling. USTR officials said they are now looking to Congress for help.
Bacardi has been locked in a bitter struggle for years with Pernod Ricard of France and CubaExport, a Cuban government-controlled company, over control of the Havana Club trademark. In 1993, the French-Cuban alliance formed a joint venture to market Havana Club, which the Cuban government registered with the U.S. Patent Office in 1976. Bacardi was later able to convince American officials to back off from their recognition of the Cuban governmentís claims.
Bacardi, which has opposed lifting the U.S. embargo of Cuba, fearing a flood of Cuban rum into the U.S. market, purchased the rights for Havana Club from the original owner, Jose Arechabala S.A., in the mid-1990s. The two sides have since waged a protracted contest on both the political and legal fronts.
The provision DeLay is proposing would alter a 1999 law known as Section 211, pushed through Congress at Bacardiís request by then-Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), to ensure that U.S. and foreign companies are prevented from registering or defending in court trademarks associated with property expropriated by foreign governments. After a challenge by the European Union on behalf of France, the WTO ruled last year that U.S. law as it is written applies only to foreign companies and thus needs to be changed. The United States has until Dec. 31 to comply.
Grella said DeLay is "seeking to protect American companies from predatory French companies that are conspiring with a murderous dictator."
DeLayís activity on Bacardiís behalf has brought loud complaints from at least one liberal watchdog group.
"Itís like Westar all over again," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Sloan was referring to allegations that Westar Energy gave $25,000 to a DeLay-affiliated political action committee in 2002 to win his support for a legislative measure potentially worth billions to the firm, a charge that DeLay has denied repeatedly. Westar officials were later indicted for fraud and the proposal was withdrawn.
Bacardi has spent heavily during the past several years to build a relationship with DeLay and other leaders in both parties, relationships that have repeatedly paid off when the company flexes its political muscle.
Bacardi gave $20,000 in soft money to Americans for a Republican Majority PAC in 2001, with another $20,000 going to Texans for a Republican Majority PAC in July 2002. DeLay cut his ties to the two organizations, which he controlled, after last yearís campaign finance legislation banned soft-money fundraising by Members.
Bacardi also donated $3,000 to DeLayís legal defense fund following a civil racketeering lawsuit against the Texas Republican by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2000. That case was later dropped, although it cost DeLay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills.
And Bacardi helped DeLay pay the bills for events he hosted at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, as well as supplying the liquor and gifts for DeLay-run golf tournaments.
Bacardi officials declined to comment for this article.