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Special thanks to thepoliticalgame and by extension jessicazi for the info on this story. I've gotten the heads up to give the mysterious PK DU a shout for sending this info 43sb's way in the first place, so thanks!

see this story in all it's original glory at

Before I bring your attention back home to the Spud State, I need to give you some background. It all starts on the Island of Saipan.

 Saipan is a United States territory, and part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as is Guam, the largest island in the chain.

Subsequent to the Japanese defeat at the end of the Second World War, this territory came under the administration of the United States as part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.  From the Wikipedia:

"The Northern Mariana Islands had successfully exploited its position of being in a free trade area with the United States, while at the same time not being subject to the same labor laws as it: The minimum wage in the Commonwealth is lower than in the US and other worker protections are weaker leading to lower production costs: This allows garments to be labeled "Made in USA" while being produced under sweatshop conditions."

Now that you know a bit about this Island Paradise, I'm going to borrow heavily from my man Dengre at Daily Kos, as he's put together a nice little synopsis of trade in Saipan, and how our old pals Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff fit in. By the by, his original post on the subject can be found here, and the article he got a lot of the juiciest stuff from be heah. However, don't go bopping off into the hyperlink stratosphere yet. You've got more rabbit hole to explore below:

Ready. Set. Here we go. Let's meet the Tan Family:

The island of Saipan has been very good to Tan Siu-lin and his children.

In just two decades, this Hong Kong family has built a business empire there encompassing an airline, a sea freight line, a large fishing fleet, a newspaper and ventures in insurance, logistics and many other sectors. It is an empire whose prosperity has been maintained through an intricate web of money-fueled connections to powerful figures in the United States.

Family companies Tan Holdings and Luen Thai Holdings are together the leading players in the island's two main industries, garment production and tourism, as well as Saipan's biggest employer and taxpayer.

The Tans' success in the Pacific, 3,400 kilometers east of Hong Kong, flows from Saipan's status as what amounts to a special economic zone of the United States. [snip] At the same time, the commonwealth has autonomy over its immigration, customs, taxes and minimum wage levels.

The Tans exploit this duality by importing thousands of young women from China and other Asian countries to work in their factories and hotels at starting wages 40 percent below the US federal level. [snip]

Luen Thai turned a profit of US$30.4 million in 2004 as its core operation remained in Saipan sewing clothes for the US market.
Tan Siu-lin, father of Henry, William and four other children, moved the brood from Hong Kong to Guam in 1972 to venture into shipping, real estate and movie distribution. The family business headquarters moved to nearby Saipan in 1983 after the elder Tan opened a sweater factory.
It was the island's first clothing factory and was followed by dozens of others opened by the Tans and companies from South Korea, Taiwan and China. Workers from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Thailand and other Asian nations poured in and quickly outnumbered native residents.

Of course they had some trouble with forces that didn't like sweatshops under a US flag:

US labor inspectors eventually came poking around. In 1991, the US Labor Department sued six Tan companies for paying 1,350 mainly Chinese workers less than Saipan's minimum wage and forcing them to work up to 90 hours a week without overtime pay.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) levied more than US$240,000 in fines against the six Tan companies the next year [snip]

The Tans eventually settled the overtime suit without admitting wrongdoing by agreeing to pay the workers US$9 million. They settled the health and safety charges by pledging US$1.3 million in renovations and paying a US$76,000 penalty.

In 1992, George Miller, ... chairman of the House Resources Committee, convened the first of several hearings to ... consider possible changes to Saipan's legal status, such as extending the federal minimum wage or immigration controls [snip]

Enter Jack Abramoff, stage Right:

The Tans and their fellow Saipan garment makers realized they needed friends in Washington. Commonwealth governor Froilan Tenorio, a Republican, hired Abramoff [snip]

Years spent running conservative political groups had brought Abramoff close to many newly ascendant Republican congressional leaders, especially DeLay. Abramoff augmented those friendships with campaign contributions.

His favored tactic was organizing trips to the island for congressmen, their staff and families, conservative commentators and think-tank researchers. The delights of free travel to a remote, beach-fringed tropical island were an easy sell in the busy US capital.

"There is no doubt that trips to the CNMI are one of the most effective ways to build permanent friends on [Capitol] Hill and among policy makers in Washington,'' Abramoff wrote in a 1998 strategy memo.

DeLay was Abramoff's most prominent guest. [snip]

Willie Tan hosted a dinner in DeLay's honor. [snip]

Some time later, Tan told a human rights activist posing as a clothing buyer that DeLay had given a personal pledge to block any reform proposal. "I make the schedule of the Congress and I'm not going to put it on the schedule,'' Tan quoted DeLay in a conversation secretly taped by the activist.

The Senate unanimously passed a bill in February 2000 to extend federal immigration controls to the commonwealth. DeLay rose to the occasion, blocking the House version of the bill from ever coming to a vote. [snip]

Over the last decade, the Tan family and their companies have spent at least US$200,000 (HK$1.6 million) on lobbying and contributions to Washington political campaigns.

More significantly, the commonwealth government and Saipan business associations invested more than US$11.5 million between 1995 and 2002 to lobby in Washington against changes to the islands' status. [snip]

Much of Abramoff's power stemmed from his close ties to Texas Republican Tom DeLay.... Through Abramoff, Willie Tan, who directs the family's ventures in Saipan, also became buddies with DeLay.

And of course the relationship was about more than money.  There were the dirty tricks, money laundering, vote rigging and other GOP values that served to build a lasting bond between the Hong Kong corporation and DeLay's GOP:

Congressman Miller pointed out in a letter addressed to US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last month that commonwealth accounts show US$1.6 million more in payments to Preston Gates in 1996-2001 than Preston Gates reported receiving in its filings. A 1999 commonwealth audit found US$3.4 million of the payments made to the firm to be unlawful, as they covered services performed during periods when no contract was in place. [snip]

Willie Tan ... did play a role in Abramoff's work, as documented in an e-mail sent in January 1998 by the lobbyist to Tan and two senior lieutenants, Eloy Inos and Benigno Fitial, detailing planned lobbying strategy.

"I composed this e-mail before receiving Willie's e-mail concerning the budget for the representation,'' wrote Abramoff. Later he referred to past comments by Tan about the need for extensive preparation for upcoming congressional hearings.

After the memo was leaked to the press, Abramoff told one reporter: "We don't have a relationship with Tan and we never will.'' [snip]

Abramoff eventually won back his commonwealth lobbying contract after Fitial, the Tan Holdings lieutenant addressed in the strategy memo, left the company and won election to the commonwealth legislature in 1999. He emerged as the speaker after two former top DeLay aides flew to Saipan and promised two legislators they would secure federal funding for infrastructure projects in their districts. [snip]

Henry and Josie Tan each donated US$1,000 to George W Bush's 2000 campaign. In October 2002, two family companies on Saipan, the L&T Group and Global Manufacturing, each sent US$25,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. A third, Concorde Garment Manufacturing, sent US$25,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee. [snip]

Sometimes Tan family members recorded a Hong Kong address on their donations, sometimes one in Saipan. Federal campaign regulations mandate that only US citizens or permanent residents can legally donate. Luen Thai's IPO prospectus says that Henry and brother Raymond are Chinese nationals living in Hong Kong.

There are more details in the article. And an earlier piece by the same reporter in Dec. 1994, The Island that lost its shirts, gives a great snapshot of the CNMI textile industry and its decline in light of trade restrictions coming off China. But its no problem for the Tan Family as the shift their CNMI business to tourism for Chinese vacationers. All to new airports paid for by US taxpayers.

As the Abramoff scandal becomes more competitive reporters will return to CNMI. So will the testimony of Mike Scanlon. He was one of the DeLay aides mentioned in the vote-buying graph of the above story.

And of course there are many Congressmen and at least one Senator (hello Burns) who have more to worry about from Saipan and the Chinese funds flowing to the GOP than they do about the Tribal scandals.

And if Jack makes a deal, we'll get an idea of how big this scandal really is and they'll be a rush on the Republican side of the isle to cut a deal before all the good ones are made.

Let's hope he's right, eh? Okay, so by now, you're wondering, okay, crooked congressional Republicans involved in some sort of influence/money laundering/campaign finance web of treachery... What else is new?

Well, what if I told you that according to campaign finance disclosure documents provided by the Idaho Secretary of State and the Federal Election Commission, employees of Tan Holdings Corporation gave thousands of dollars to the Idaho State Republican Party during the 1998 election cycle? And how about if I further told you that Onwel Manufacturing Ltd. another Saipan sweatshop manufacturer, donated a fat lump in the amount of five thousand dollars to same Idaho State Republican Party.  

SAIPAN, 96950

    03/13/1997    750.00    98033284349     

SAIPAN, 96950

    01/21/1998    700.00    98033284345     

SAIPAN, 96950

    02/27/1998    1000.00    98033284348     

SAIPAN, 96950

    02/18/1997    1000.00    98033284347     

SAIPAN, 96950

    03/13/1997    750.00    98033284349     

Fortunato, Raul         PPP431, Box 1000 Saipan MP 96950       
    Idaho Republican Party State Central Committee        3/13/1997    $750.00         

Onwel Manufacturing Ltd.        Box 712 Saipan MP 96950       
    Idaho Republican Party State Central Committee        1/21/1997    $5,000.00               

Pasion, Mildred C.        Mailex 241/10005 Fina Sisu Saipan MP 96950       
    Idaho Republican Party State Central Committee        3/13/1997    $750.00               

Pilayan, Henry B.        PPP 618, Box 1000 Saipan MP 96950       
    Idaho Republican Party State Central Committee        3/13/1997    $750.00               

Soliven, Marites Tan         Box 1280 Saipan MP 96950       
    Idaho Republican Party State Central Committee        2/27/1997    $1,000.00               

Tolentino, Andie A.        PPP 431, Box 10000 Saipan MP 96950       
    Idaho Republican Party State Central Committee        2/27/1997    $1,000.00   

For a little more about Onwel, back to our buddy Dengre at Kos:

A settlement fund of $1.25 million will be established to fund the monitoring, as well as for public education, and to partially reimburse workers for unlawful recruitment fees paid in the past. CNMI contractors that will now be subject to monitoring under the settlement include Global Manufacturing, Inc., Concorde Garment Manufacturing Corp., Trans-Asia Garment Forte Corp., Jin Apparel, Inc., Marianas Garment Manufacturing, Inc., Mirage Saipan Inc., N.E.T. Corp. dba Suntex Manufacturing, Inc., Onwel Manufacturing Saipan Ltd., Diorva Saipan Ltd. and Micronesian Garment Manufacturing, Inc.

So, Abramoff and Delay's buddy Willie Tan, and Willie's buddies in the sweatshop scene became great benefactors to our homegrown GOP wrecking crew. My question is, why? Why on earth are sweatshop owning garment manufacturers in Saipan donating large sums (upwards of thirteen thousand dollars in 1997-98 by my count) to Idaho Republicans? It's clear as the DeLay/Abramoff scandal unfolds, that their actions, and their connections to Tan and others in Saipan were a giant "pay for play" moneylaundering architecture. Guys like Abramoff raised the money, Guys like Tan donated the money, and Guys like DeLay and many other GOP legislators at the state and federal level got the money, and with it, the implicit understanding that there were legislative strings attached, to say the least.

Now we find what looks to fit the pattern of dirty DeLay/Abramoff/Tan money in Idaho.

Here's just a partial list of candidates and committees that took money from the Idaho State Party Central Committee in 1998:

<small>Ada County Republicans
Jeff Alltus - Candidate Support
Bannock County Republicans
Bear Lake Republicans
Clyde Boatright
Boronaro for Congress
John Campbell
Canyon County Republicans
Chenoweth for Congress
Pete Cenarrusa
Sam Clark
Crapo for Senate
Bart Davis
Julie Ellsworth
Debbie Field
Michael Kolb
Alan Lance
Helen Paoli
Simpson for Congress</small>

and last, but certainly not least, the Kootenai County Republican Party got $2,177.67, and the Kootenai County Republican Women got $2600 from the Idaho Republican Central Committee.

I think the State Republican Party owe the people of the State of Idaho an explanation as to why they took over thirteen thousand dollars in contributions from sweatshop owners in Saipan.

And I think we need to ask ourselves, why the hell are sweatshop owners in Saipan giving money to Idaho Republicans?

Originally posted to ianstenseng on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 09:37 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Folks, ask yourself this question: (none)
    Why the hell would more than a dozen impoverished sweatshop workers dump $13,000 into little 'ol Idaho? I doubt they were hoping the Idaho Republican Party would turn around and send them a boatload of Idaho Spud candy bars. Somthing's damn fishy here, and someone in the Idaho GOP knows why.

    Curiouser and curiouser...

    Tilting at windmills, with the proper armor and enough firepower, can be a productive effort.

    by Serephin on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 10:12:14 PM PST

  •  Very good diary... (none)
    Guess Idaho isn't representing on dKos much tonight!

    Isn't Coldwater Creek in Sandpoint, which is Kootenai County?  

    Do you take me for a fool/Do you think that I don't see/That ditch out in the valley/That they're digging just for me -D. Fagan

    by DrewDown on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 10:13:13 PM PST

    •  Yep! (none)

      Tilting at windmills, with the proper armor and enough firepower, can be a productive effort.

      by Serephin on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 10:23:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  So just thinking... (none)
        What's the story with Duane Hagadone and his empire?  I worked at the golf course back in the days before having a political consciousness, but he seemed like a bad dude.

        Any other big business, or companies with overseas "interests" (read:sweatshop labor) in Idaho?

        Do you take me for a fool/Do you think that I don't see/That ditch out in the valley/That they're digging just for me -D. Fagan

        by DrewDown on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 10:46:17 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  damn (none)
    are you sure this doesn't include larry craig?

    great diary!  recommended

    weather forecast

    The palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise. - Paine

    by Cedwyn on Fri Feb 10, 2006 at 12:03:20 AM PST

  •  And I've wondered for years the Idaho/Tan $ (none)
    The total I found from Tan Family members and employees was $15,900--all given in Feb. and March 1997 and all to the Idaho Republican Party.

    Before and after, nothing. It is odd, but I think I know why: energy deregulation.

    You have to remember that back in 1997 one of the nicknames DeLay wore with honor was "The Congressman from Enron" and Tom's pet legislation was energy deregulation. The trouble was that some Western states like Idaho didn't need deregulation and would actually end up paying more if DeLay's law was adopted. Rep. Mike Crapo was against DeLay's plan in 1997 and I always thought that the money from Saipan to the IRP was to get party members to pressure Crapo to get behind DeLay's bill (which, thankfully, died that year).

    I've always suspected that more money from other DeLay connected sources flowed into the IRP, but I've never had the time to follow where this thread might lead.

    I'll be happy to share research if you plan to start pulling at this scandal thread.


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