As chairman of the House Committee on Resources, Congressman Dick "Dick" Pombo has tremendous influence over US environmental laws. Unfortunately, Dick's motto seems to be, "I've never met a blade of grass I wouldn't divvy up for spare change." Money always trumps conservation with him, as is evidenced by the new "Endangering Species" act he recently got passed in the House.
Only this time, Pombo (R-Gave to Delay Defense Fund) may have let his greed get the better of him, and violated him some tax laws to the tune of $23,000. It seems like a pretty clear case of "he done wrong." Now we just need to get the word out! Read more below the fold . . . .
Tax law prohibits members of Congress from taking international trips paid for by private foundations. But Marketplace and Bob Williams from the Center for Public Integrity have learned California Republican Richard Pombo may have done just that.
The group that paid for Congressman Pombo's questionable trips is called the International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources, or the IFCNR. The nonprofit's website says its mission is to quote "communicate, educate, and advocate for the environmentally sound, ethical, socially just, and sustainable use of Nature's resources."
But despite its green veneer, Michael Markarian at the Humane Society of the United States says the IFCNR has alienated mainstream environmental groups: "This is an organization that has made a cottage industry out of opposing any animal welfare reform."
The IFCNR's tax documents show its financial backers include the Japan Whaling Association, the International Fur Traders Association, and a company that was shut down after its president was convicted of smuggling and of violating endangered species protections. The chemical company Monsanto is another major IFCNR funder.
Congressman Pombo is chairman one of the most important environmental committees in the House of Representatives. He his wife and a staffer have accepted $23,000 in international travel from the IFCN in the last 5 years.
Although trade associations and public charities are allowed to pay for international congressional travel, private foundations are not.
And several tax attorneys, who specialize in nonprofit tax law, say these trips clearly violated IRS rules: "It is actually in the tax law — the tax law and the regulations forbid such payments." That's Victoria Bjorklund, a nonprofit tax expert and a partner at the law firm of Simpson and Thatcher. Bjorkland says Pombo is required by law to reimburse the IFCNR for the trips, or he and the foundation's managers could face steep fines.
Stephen Boynton is IFCNRs founder.
Reporter Steve Henn: "Did you talk to a tax attorney about this?"
Stephen Boynton: "I talked to the House Committee on Ethics and they told me at the time and so did Congressman Pombo that that was not a problem and I acted on that advice."
Pombo declined to speak on tape, but told the Center for Public Integrity, "I never heard about them being a private foundation. Obviously I will have my accountant check into this."
Pombo's affiliation with the Boynton and his nonprofit IFCNR runs deep. He chaired one of the groups most important programs, an initiative to help it's corporate members network with legislators and push for changes in trade rules that affect endangered species. Boynton says: "It seemed logical that Congressman Pombo might be the perfect chairman. So I brought the idea to him. He considered it and agreed to do it."
From Say No to Pombo:
It is hard to believe that he could not have known that status of a group he was so involved. As a Governor and as a Chairman of one of its major working groups, Pombo had to know IFCNR was a private foundation. Not only that, he must have known this when he accepted their travel. And being in Congress for so many years, he had to be at least aware of possible ethical and illegal implications of accepting their travel.I left a suggestion over at "Say No to Pombo" that contact info for major media outlets in the area would be helpful. One of the site's contributors, Matt, gave me a list of large papers that could be contacted:
This should not be passed off as, "well, he can repay it, and everything is fine". The IFCNR is a highly anti-environmental group, funded by the right-wing and run by Stephen Boynton, a major player in the Arkansas Project. The Arkansas Project was set up by Richard Mellon Scaife to find ways to embarrass and defame Bill Clinton, and eventually led to Paula Jones and to Clinton's impeachment.
The trips that Pombo took were to New Zealand in Nov. 2000 and to Shimonoseki, Japan, in May 2002. Both were SUPU conferences that passed resolutions calling for the resumption of commerical whaling and the exploitation of animals, as well as the blocking of ocean sanctuaries. The May 2002 trip to Japan coincided with the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting in the same Japanese city and was designed to pressure the IWC into easing its ban on whalilng.
Pro-whaling groups (yes, such things exist), praised Pombo, and noted how signficant it was that a US Representative was pushing for commercial whaling, when the official US policy, as well as most of the US public, was opposed to whaling.
Pombo's presence added weight the proceedings. If a US Congressman who is on the Resources Commitee shows up at these conferences, this comes across as a serious breach in official US opinion over whaling bans. It encourages the pro-whaling forces who are usually faced with the strong US opposition.
. . .
This is a big scandal, and Pombo could be in trouble over his illegal acceptance of gifts from the IFCNR. This goes even deeper in that Monsanto is a major funder of IFCNR and has pushed to exempt its pesticides from regulation under the ESA. Lo and behold, what is in Pombo's latest ESA bill? An exemption for pesticides and herbicides.
- The Stockton Record
- The Tracy Press
- The Lodi News-Sentinel
- The Conta Costa Times
- The San Francisco Chronicle
- The Sacramento Bee