Friday, July 28, 2006

Sweeney Defended Sweatshops and Lobbied for Abramoff

I'm quoting a recent DailyKos Diary with information on John Sweeney's (R-NY) ties to Jack Abramoff which go beyond the standard (and previously covered) donations to the Sweeney campaign. It looks like Sweeney was the "go to guy" for Abramoff when it came to supporting sweatshops in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Sweeney is reported to have claimed that sweatshop the situation was worse in America. Read how Sweeney lobbied for this corrupt lobbyist:

...Some of Sweeney's work with Abramoff has bubbled to the surface.

He made the cut in a March 2006 article in The Hill, Salon's War Room wrote it up (emphasis added):

A window into the Abramoff investigation?

If you're into reading tea leaves from the Jack Abramoff investigation, Roll Call has a report worth considering today: Between June and October of 2005, the paper says, Justice Department staffers pulled financial disclosure reports on at least nine members of Congress and at least seven former congressional staffers.

Four of the members are ones you'd expect: Reps. Tom DeLay, Bob Ney and John Doolittle and Sen. Conrad Burns, each of whom is a Republican lawmaker with well-documented ties to the disgraced Republican lobbyist. But Justice Department staffers also pulled records on five members who have, as Roll Call puts it, "no public connection" to the investigation into Abramoff's dealings: Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and John Sweeney, Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott and Earl Pomeroy, and Democrat Eni Faleomavaega, the delegate from American Samoa.

...Those who are familiar with the Abramoff story know that he left the lobbying firm, Preston Gates, after Bush was appointed President and joined the Florida based firm, Greenberg Traurig.

On January 4, 2001 he sent a pitch letter to the Governor of CNMI, Pedro P. Tenorio, making the case why CNMI should rehire him as their lobbyist for the coming Bush era.

There was some hesitation on CNMI to spend more money on a Washington Lobbyist now that their GOP allies controlled everything. Jack needed somebody to travel to CNMI to make his case, to seal the deal.

John Sweeney was the guy.

It is amazing what one finds in the Saipan Tribune the newspaper owned by the Tan Family, the Hong Kong based clan that owned most everything on the US Territory and a few Congressmen as well. Back on January 8, 2001 they were very excited. A Congressman was coming to town (emphasis added):

Sweeney takes 1st trip to CNMI Republican congressman John E. Sweeney of New York will keynote the annual gala installation of the 2001 Board of Directors of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, CNMI's largest business organization, on Saturday at the Hyatt Regency.

This will be Mr. Sweeney's first trip to the CNMI, according to the Chamber. [snip]...

More than likely, it was Sweeney's position on the Aviation Subcommittee that put him in the sights of the DOJ Abramoff Investigation, but more on that in a moment.

First, I wonder if Sweeney planned a show of force for the locals? Oh, yeah. He did.:

Marine air show tomorrow The United States Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 21 will make a rare appearance on [the] island tomorrow in honor of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce installation dinner and special guests, Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio and U.S. Rep. John E. Sweeney, R-New York.

The public is invited to witness four F/A-18D Hornets of the Green Knights make two aerial demonstration passes over the Garapan lagoon at 5:30pm tomorrow, just prior to the 6:00pm Chamber installation dinner at the Hyatt Regency Saipan.

Boy, there is nothing like a fly over to get the attention of a Territory's Governor and Chamber of Commerce. I wonder if Rep. Sweeney had a special message to deliver in his remarks that evening.

Let's check out the report in the January 15, 2001 edition of the Saipan Tribune (emphasis added):

Sweeney: Continue lobby efforts in D.C. New York congressman says U.S. Congress deprived of real situation in CNMI

Ok, so the headline seems to be a plea to rehire Abramoff, but what about his remarks. What did Sweeney tell the folks? Let's take a peak:

Mr. Sweeney told business leaders during the installation of the new officers of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce that they have an important role to play in informing the people in Washington about CNMI's efforts to become self-sustaining and carry out changes to make life better for the people.

"The reputation of the Commonwealth is not really what ought to be. I come here and found that the truth projected to me in Washington was not the truth at all," he said. [snip]

"The Chamber has done affirmative steps that can be a model in some other communities around the country. Without your work in the Chamber, it could have been worse. You brought to the eyes of many leaders in Washington that the people of Saipan are not giving up, that you are hopeful," said Mr. Sweeney....

While there have been criticisms about alleged poor working conditions of garment workers in the Northern Marianas, Mr. Sweeney said the situation in the U.S. mainland is far worse as he joined enforcement agents in banging down doors of sweatshop establishments in New York. [snip]

"I think, we as members of the U.S. Congress need to build some flexibility in our understanding of the situation," he said. In recognizing the contribution of the garment manufacturers on the island's economy, Mr. Sweeney said Washington should be made to understand that the departure of the industry will devastate the Northern Marianas.

And of course, the effort was a success for Jack:

Meanwhile, Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio said he agrees with Mr. Sweeney that CNMI must continue to lobby in Washington to protect the interests of the people of the Commonwealth.

Before the month ended, a new contract was signed and the New Team Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig went to work blocking any efforts to end the system of abuse. And they also went to work to shower their clients on CNMI with tens of millions of dollars from US taxpayers.

And Sweeney helped.

As I outlined the other day in the Diary, Doolittle + Abramoff + Bribes = More GOP Trouble, the Department of Justice investigation seems to be focusing on Abramoff and DeLay sending their minions out to CNMI in late 1999 to fix an election.

They wanted their guy, Ben Fitial, elected as Speaker of the CNMI House. So Ed Buckham and Mike Scanlon went to CNMI and promised two Representative, (one from the island of Rota and the other from the island of Tinian) lots and lots of Federal cash if they switched their votes.

The deal was struck and DeLay's Congress showered CNMI with mad cash.

Most of it went through the Transportation Committee, especially the Aviation Subcommittee. In 2000 there was $1.25 million for resurfacing the runways for the airport on Rota. Jack's Congressional partners also changed the way that Airport Improvement Project money was appropriated to insure that CNMI got a little bit out of every dollar spent.

All in all, Sweeney may have done more that just help Jack seal a new gig lobbying for CNMI. I think he was also very helpful in landing appropriations for the CNMI.

The 2001 CNMI billing invoices include a number of Sweeney connected entries:

04/26/01 Tony C. Rudy 1.15 hrs Meet with appropriations staff of Rep. Sweeney's office.

05/04/01 Tony C. Rudy 3.00 hrs Meet with Rep. Sweeney to discuss Appropriations request.

05/25/01 Kevin A. Ring 1.80 hrs Phone conversation and correspondence with K. Kaloi (House Resources) regarding CNMI appropriations; send talking points to same; phone conversation with Labor Deparment official regarding minimum wage; correspondence with staff of Rep. Sweeney regarding appropriations.

06/20/01 Tony C. Rudy 3.00 hrs Meeting with Rep. Sweeney regarding client issues; discussions with L. Lamora (Watts) regarding upcoming minimum wage effort.

Well, you get the point.

Not only was John Sweeney connected to Team Abramoff, he was having regular meetings about appropriations with admitted felon, Tony C. Rudy.

I think Sweeney may be in trouble.

And I definitely think that Kirsten Gillibrand should give him the Ralph Reed treatment. After all, Sweeney was defending the system of sweatshops, human trafficking, force[d] prostitution and forced abortion in his remarks to the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and in his actions to deliver the goods for Jack Abramoff.

I hope the DCCC and the Kirsten Gillibrand campaign are up to the task of defeating this Abramoff-Connected GOP Weasel.

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