June 18, 2004
GOP moves to silence complaint

I suppose we should have seen this one coming: In response to Rep. Chris Bell's ethics complaint against Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a GOP flack has moved to forbid the filing of such complaints by lame-duck members.

U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., took steps Thursday to throw out the complaint by Bell, a Democrat whose Houston-area district borders DeLay's.

LaHood said that because Bell is a lame-duck congressman, after losing the Democratic primary this year in his freshman term, he "has no stake in the institution" and should be disqualified from filing the charges. Bell's term expires at the end of the year.

A spokesman for House GOP leaders said the series of events in defense of DeLay was not a coordinated effort.

"We're trying to make sure people follow the rules. We always do that," said John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

"And if that means we have to change to rules midstream, then so be it," he did not add.

In DeLay's office, spokesman Stuart Roy said he did not know of any organized attempt to mute Democratic criticism.

"Chris Bell and other Democrats love to moan and whine and play the victim card because they have nothing else to offer," Roy said.

Well fine then. Why not let his baseless, meaningless complaint go forward so that all the world can see it for its lack of merit? It's not like DeLay is putting his fate into the hands of twelve strangers who couldn't weasel their way out of jury duty, after all. He'll be judged by his professional colleagues, at least half of whom will be Republicans. How much fairer a shake could he ask for? For Rep. LaHood to take this action says to me that he fears Bell's charges.

At least one Republican is being mature about this:

In a twist, ethics Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., who has a cool relationship with DeLay, disagreed with LaHood's attempt to cripple Bell because of his lame-duck status.

"I don't think that's appropriate. Anybody who is here and is a legitimate member of Congress, whether this is their last term or not, if they think there have been some indiscretions, they have a right to bring it to our attention," Hefley said.

We'll see if Rep. Hefley finds himself out on a limb. I sure hope not. I also sure hope that if Rep. LaHood carries the day, some non-lame duck Democrat will pick up the ball for Chris Bell and refile the complaint. It just shouldn't have to come to that.

Meanwhile, there are developments on two other fronts. First, the Miami Daily Business Review has another installment in the Bacardi Follies. Second, according to Roll Call, the Senate Indian Affairs Panel is going forward with subpoenas for Jack Abramoff and Mike Scanlon, lobbysists and DeLay associates, for their roles in charging huge fees to tribes for casino-related work. Both are subscription-only, so click the More link for the stories. Thanks as always to AJ Garcia for the tips.

As donations flowed, heavyweight lawmakers pleaded spirits giant’s case for Havana Club

June 18, 2004

By: Dan Christensen

Three powerful members of Congress who received campaign money from Miami-based Bacardi USA put pressure on the Bush administration to help the rum giant in its long-running trademark dispute over the Havana Club rum label.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, and Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., each sent nearly identical letters to Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans in November 2001, seeking to influence the outcome of then-pending administrative proceedings over the rights to the Havana Club trademark.

According to information that emerged during Senate Judiciary Committee proceedings, the letters urged Evans to intervene and cancel the Havana Club trademark registration held by CubaExport, which is owned by the Cuban government.

Those proceedings at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, an agency directly under Secretary Evans, pitted Bacardi against French liquor titan Pernod Ricard and CubaExport. Bacardi was seeking the right to use the Havana Club rum label in the United States.

Before and after the three members of Congress sent their letters to Evans, Bacardi money flowed to the political causes of the three members. Political groups controlled by DeLay received the most — $43,000, according to records kept by the Internal Revenue Service and the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property Jonathan W. Dudas last month disclosed the existence of the letters after inquiries made during Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation proceedings. Dudas has been nominated by President Bush to be director of the Patent and Trademark Office. He currently is acting director.

In a related development Tuesday, outgoing Texas Congressman Chris Bell, D-Houston, filed an ethics complaint with the House that accused DeLay of backing a pro-Bacardi bill in exchange for a $20,000 contribution in July 2002 to his political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority.

“In exchange for Bacardi’s financial support, DeLay has pushed a piece of legislation — often referred to as ‘the Bacardi bill’ — that would alter U.S. trademark rules to benefit Bacardi,” said the complaint that seeks an investigation of that and other allegations against DeLay by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The bill is opposed by numerous other U.S. businesses including Kodak, General Motors and DuPont who fear it could damage existing trademark protections.

The disclosure of the letters is the latest revelation in the emerging story of Bacardi USA’s long-running lobbying campaign to win the rights to sell Havana Club rum in the United States.

Bacardi sought the cancellation of CubaExport’s U.S. trademark registration for Havana Club. That would have short-circuited proceedings before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board and allowed Bacardi to press its own application to register the Havana Club mark.

But Secretary Evans declined to cancel CubaExport’s registration. In response letters written to DeLay, Bonilla and Hollings in late 2001 and early 2002, Evans said he didn’t have the authority “to take the action you have suggested.”

Last January, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board dismissed Bacardi’s claim to the Havana Club label. Bacardi is appealing that decision in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Bacardi spokeswoman Patricia Neal said she did not know whether anyone at her company had asked the members of Congress to write those letters. But she said that Bacardi enjoys broad, bipartisan support on Capitol Hill on a number of issues. “Some members feel strongly about certain issues and write letters,” she said.

Neither DeLay nor Bonilla’s offices responded to telephone requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for Hollings said there was no connection between Bacardi’s contribution and his letter to Evans. “He’s a longtime advocate on trade issues and he believes that [Cuban leader Fidel] Castro had no right to these trademarks,” said spokeswoman Ilene Zeldin.

WTO weighs in

Cuba registered the Havana Club trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1976 after its former owners let it lapse in 1973. Havana Club Holdings, a joint venture of the Cuban government and Pernod Ricard, currently sells Havana Club rum in more than 80 countries.

In 1997, Bacardi announced it had purchased the Havana Club trademark from its original owner, Jose Arechabala S.A. When Bacardi started testing Havana Club in the U.S. market, Havana Club Holdings filed a federal trademark infringement lawsuit.

But Havana Club Holdings’ lawsuit was short-circuited in 1999 when Congress, under prodding by Florida Sens. Connie Mack and Bob Graham, passed Section 211 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act. The law prohibits the U.S. from honoring trademarks confiscated by foreign governments.

The World Trade Organization later got involved after the European Union filed suit on behalf of France in October 2000. Ultimately, the WTO held that Section 211 violated international intellectual property protections because it disadvantaged foreigners over U.S. nationals. The U.S. has until the end of 2004 to comply WTO rules or face sanctions.

Gov. Bush’s role

The disclosure of the letters from DeLay, Bonilla and Hollings that sought to influence the outcome of that legal fight came as a result of questions by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He asked Dudas about his knowledge of “press accounts” about Gov. Jeb Bush’s lobbying efforts for Bacardi regarding the Havana Club dispute. Many details of those lobbying efforts were first reported in an October 2002 story in the Daily Business Review.

Bacardi USA recruited Gov. Bush in 2002 to lobby its case in Washington, D.C., with political appointees of his brother, President Bush. All the while, Bacardi officials poured tens of thousands of dollars into the treasuries of Florida’s Republican Party and the governor’s re-election campaign.

Dudas was deputy PTO director in February 2002 when he met with Bacardi executive Jorge Rodriguez Marquez and a member of Gov. Bush’s staff, Melissa Freedman, to discuss the Havana Club dispute. In response to Sen. Leahy’s questions, Dudas summarized that meeting.

In his written answer to Leahy, Dudas recounted Gov. Bush’s personal letter to then-PTO Director James E. Rogan on June 13, 2002, “calling for cancellation of the Havana Club registration.” He also said that “to supplement my answer” he was providing the Judiciary Committee with the DeLay, Bonilla and Hollings letters.

The letters from the three members of Congress urged Evans to have the PTO cancel CubaExport’s Havana Club trademark, No. 1,031,651. In support, each cited a 1997 federal court ruling as requiring such action.

But as Secretary Evans pointed out in his reply to each, that ruling did not require such an action. “The court did not order cancellation … therefore the U.S. PTO is without authority to take the action you have suggested,” he wrote, enclosing with each reply a copy of the court’s actual judgment.

Timely contributions

As it did while enlisting Gov. Bush’s lobbying support, Bacardi made large and timely contributions to DeLay, Bonilla and Hollings’ political causes.

In Gov. Bush’s case, Bacardi made a $50,000 contribution to the Florida Republican Party two weeks before the governor sent his June 13, 2002, letter to PTO Director Rogan. A spokeswoman for the governor previously told the Review that there was no “quid pro quo.” She said Bush helped Bacardi because it’s a big employer in Florida.

The dates on which Bacardi gave money to organizations associated with DeLay, Bonilla and Hollings, who is retiring this year, aren’t publicly known. Applicable federal reporting rules require only that those donations be attributed within semi-annual, quarterly or monthly reporting periods.

IRS and U.S. House clerk records show that between July 1, 2002, and Dec. 31, 2001 — the time during which DeLay wrote his letter to Secretary Evans — Bacardi pumped $20,000 in soft money into DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee. It also gave $3,000 to the Tom DeLay Legal Expense Trust, an account set up to defend a civil action filed against him by House Democrats.

The following July, Bacardi contributed $20,000 more to DeLay’s state political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority. That contribution to TRMPAC is a focus of a continuing investigation by a Travis County, Texas, grand jury into allegedly illegal spending of corporation contributions by TRMPAC.

Rep. Bonilla’s leadership PAC, the American Dream PAC, received $10,000 in from Bacardi between April 1 and June 30, 2002. Bacardi gave American Dream another $10,000 between July 1, 2000, and Sept. 30, 2000.

Sen. Hollings’ leadership PAC, Citizens for a Competitive America, received a $5,000 contribution from Bacardi between Jan. 1, 2002, and March 31, 2002.

There’s currently a fight in Congress about how to respond to the WTO’s ruling and sanctions threat over Section 211. Rep. Bonilla and Sen. Hollings are co-sponsors of pro-Bacardi bills introduced this spring that seek to bring the United States into compliance with the WTO ruling while leaving Section 211 in force. Rep. DeLay is not a co-sponsor, but was a key player in a failed effort last year to get the same language included in a defense authorization bill.

Opponents, led by Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., are backing competing legislation to repeal Section 211. The National Foreign Trade Council and companies such as General Motors and DuPont are endorsing that legislation. They have expressed fears that Section 211 jeopardizes existing trademark protections and future access to Cuban markets.

Indian Affairs Panel OKs Subpoenas for Abramoff

June 17, 2004
By Paul Kane, Roll Call Staff

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee has approved issuing broad subpoenas to lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a former aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) in connection with the more than $45 million in fees they charged tribal clients. In what panel members later described as a unanimous decision, the committee on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for issuing subpoenas to Abramoff and Mike Scanlon as well as to some businesses and firms they have been associated with over the past few years.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), the committee’s chairman, said the subpoenas would start going out later this week or early next week, although he held out the possibility that the tribal clients themselves might not be subpoenaed — an issue that Campbell and ranking member Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) expect to work out over the next few days.

“We’re looking at individuals and corporations much more than tribes,” Campbell said. He confirmed that Abramoff and Scanlon are among those who would receive summonses.

“A lot of people have been subpoenaed,” Inouye said after the closed-door executive session in which they were issued. He put the number at “more than 10,” while Campbell said the figure could be “as many as 15.”

Wednesday’s developments are the latest twist in the three-month-old committee investigation initiated by Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the panel’s No. 2 Republican and the heir apparent to the chairmanship next year.

Abramoff, who resigned earlier this year from the law and lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig, billed four different tribes about $15 million between 2001 and 2003 while at the same time referred them to Scanlon, the former DeLay aide who worked closely with Abramoff as a public relations and grassroots campaign expert. According to internal audits and press reports in The Washington Post and other media outlets, Scanlon appears to have raked in twice as much as Abramoff — more than $30 million, and possibly much more.

There is evidence that the FBI is looking into how some of the tribes spent their money. The Interior Department is doing its own investigation. Once McCain went public with his complaints and coaxed Campbell into launching the investigation, Greenberg Traurig ousted Abramoff, citing its own preliminary internal inquiry that turned up unspecified actions that violated firm policy.

The firm is close to completing its own internal probe, for which it hired outside counsel, and may seek further retribution against Abramoff.

The firm declined to comment about the committee’s actions Wednesday. Abramoff’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, released a statement declining to comment on the specifics of the committee’s actions because of its decision to act in secrecy. “Because the committee apparently decided to act in closed session, we don’t know what it did or what, if any, subpoenas have been issued,” Lowell said.

A lawyer for Scanlon did not reply to a request for comment.

Inouye said he expects Abramoff and his old firm to try to beat back the subpoena. “I would anticipate that they will try to resist,” he said.

At particular issue with Abramoff will be the work he did for several tribes who apparently have attorney-client confidentiality privilege with Greenberg Traurig. A few of the tribes are in internal feuds, with warring camps divided by their stance on the Abramoff-Scanlon work. It’s unclear whether those tribes will ever fully waive their confidentiality.

One tribe, the Saginaw Chippewa of Michigan, is now officially being run by a tribal council that has waived all confidentiality claims, and it appears any and all documents related to that tribe are probably in the committee’s possession. Scanlon has said that he turned over all his Saginaw documents.

While Campbell, the only American Indian in the Senate, said the tribes have a level of sovereignty that allows them to run their own affairs, he added that longstanding trusts between them and the U.S. government give Congress the right to oversee their actions. He suggested that Abramoff and Scanlon may have engaged in financial wrongdoing similar to how telemarketers take advantage of elderly customers — something that tribal sovereignty doesn’t protect Abramoff and Scanlon from.

“That does not give them the right to have two people take advantage of them,” he said.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 18, 2004 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

I spoke with Ms Pelosi's and Mr Bell's office this morning about LaHood's efforts.

I saw the easiest way to resolve this as not to fight it but flank it: get someone else to file the complaint. The difficulty here as someone from Bell's office explained was no other Democrat is willing to file the complaint.

She did mention Mr Hefley but couldn't venture a guess as to how this was going to play out.

Posted by: Charles M on June 18, 2004 9:02 AM


Posted by: RHONDA HORAN on September 24, 2004 1:12 PM