Saturday, August 05, 2006

Doolittle and Abramoff - It's Official

Today's Sacramento Bee front pages Representative John Doolittle's (CA-4) connection with Jack Abramoff. David Whitney of the Bee's Washington bureau details the close relationship between Abramoff contributions and Doolittle's intervention in the internal politics of the Northern Mariana Islands.
John Doolittle helped Jack Abramoff secure a lucrative lobbying contract with the commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in 1999 and then assisted the now-disgraced lobbyist's efforts to route federal money to the islands and defend its garment industry, newly obtained documents show.
Abramoff's primary mission as a lobbyist was the protection of the Mariana's garment industry from government regulation.

The commonwealth is a U.S. territory east of the Philippines whose garment industry has been widely criticized as a collection of sweatshops employing Chinese, Filipino and other immigrant workers at subminimum wages. Clothing from these plants is sold tariff-free in the United States under a "Made in the USA" label.

Workers there have complained of living in prison-like conditions. Women have said they were shunted into the bustling sex industry. Chinese women told U.S. investigators that they were forced to have abortions after becoming pregnant.


At the time Doolittle was a member of the House Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the commonwealth.

Abramoff lobbied to stop reforms from passing in the U.S. Congress that would impose U.S. immigration and wage laws. Efforts to enact those laws have been bipartisan and continue today.

Doolittle has been a leading opponent of the reforms, saying the reported abuses could be halted with aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws already on the books. He stood in lock step on the issue with his mentor, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, then the Republican whip and later the House majority leader, who called the Mariana Islands a "Petri dish for capitalism."

Doolittle's relationship with Abramoff extends far beyond the work he did for his "friend" in the Marianas, but this is the only case where Abramoff's financial support to Doolittle was direct, not through others.

Whitney lays out the timeline of Abramoff contributions and ties them directly to Doolittle actions. It is classic pay to play politics, facilitated by Doolittle's former chief of staff, Kevin Ring, who had direct responsibility for the Marianas account when he join Abramoff's lobbying firm.

After he moved his operation to the Greenberg Traurig law firm and had the commonwealth contract extended for 2001, Abramoff appointed former Doolittle aide Kevin Ring to manage the account.

Over the next 10 months, according to billing records, Ring met or contacted Doolittle or his staffers 19 times to talk about Mariana Islands issues, including appropriations for the islands.

From the beginning when Abramoff needed leverage in internal Marianas politics, he turned to Doolittle. After loosing his lobbying contract in 1998, Abramoff used Doolittle to help get a his candidate, Benigne Fitial, elected to the commonwealth's legislature.

After losing the commonwealth contract in 1998, Abramoff campaigned in 1999 to get it renewed. Key to his strategy was Benigne Fitial, a supporter and former legislator who for the last decade had been vice president of Tan Holdings Group, operator of garment plants and publisher of the Saipan Tribune, according to published reports.

On Oct. 3, 1999, Doolittle received a $1,000 contribution from Abramoff, the first from the star lobbyist. Three weeks later, Doolittle wrote a letter to Fitial praising his entry into the race and endorsing his election to the commonwealth's Legislature.

Among Benigne's first acts after his election was to push "through the commonwealth's house legislation directing the government to hire Abramoff's firm, Preston Gates."

Doolittle was in Abramoff's pocket and from 1999 on could be counted upon to provide support to Abramoff's interests in the Marianas.

This is the issue that is going to begin to dismantle Doolittle's house of corruption.

For more background check with Dump Doolittle and this story over at TPM Muckraker.