It's nice to see that the media has discovered the hidden world of lobbying for the Puerto Rico status issue that has gone on in DC probably since 1898. But how about taking action on Puerto Rico's status? Maybe then, we wouldn't need to waste so much money lobbying Washington on this issue.
The Washington Post today reported that the co-director of Barack Obama's presidential campaign in Puerto Rico is a Washington-based federal lobbyist for the government of Puerto Rico. The article says:
Ethics watchdogs said that the high-profile role of Francisco J. Pavía appears to contradict the Obama campaign's ethics guidelines, which forbid federal lobbyists from working on staff. But Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Pavía is an "active volunteer" -- not a paid staffer -- and can hold the job without running afoul of the campaign's rules.
Obama and Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, have been trying to outdo each other in their repudiation of lobbyists and the "special interests" they represent.
What do you all think of this argument? I find that both McCain and Obama put themselves in a tough spot by railing against lobbying despite the fact that it is difficult to find an experienced campaign operative who has never worked as a lobbyist, so obviously despite all the watchdogs and internal campaign policing there will always be one or two who slip by and create this kind of uproar. This is evident in this comment in the same article of the Washington Post:
But Obama's rules also have been somewhat ambiguous. Some of his campaign's volunteer policy advisers are lobbyists. And at least one lobbyist said he was asked to take a leave of absence from his firm before he volunteered for the campaign.
This is why I liked John Edwards's position on this issue. It was something along the lines of "I am not presuming to be holier than everyone else here; I've made mistakes. But at least I admit them and promise to reform the system. But there is no doubt we got to get there with the broken system we got now." (Forgive me for not having the exact quote.) Taking the high road on an issue where you depend on K Street to run your campaigns is dangerous, to say the least.
(As an aside: I have to say that Bill Burton is one of the most talented, honest and well respected guys out there at what he does, and I also want to take the opportunity in this diary to praise him for his great work for Obama.)
Also mentioned in the article is Moses Mercado, with whom I worked in the Clark campaign and who is one of the most keen field experts out there. In any case, Moses -- unlike Pavia -- seems to have taken an ethical stance on this issue. He took an unpaid leave of absence from his lobbying firm to join the campaign although it's unclear from the article whether he did so on his own or whether he was asked to do so. Knowing Moses, it's probably the former:
"It was pretty clear," Mercado said. "It was so clear that I made sure I wrote a letter to our office manager saying that on these days I'm taking a leave of absence."
Pavía is not on leave from his law firm, Winston & Strawn, according to the managing partner of its Washington office, Thomas L. Mills.
The extensive lobbying by pro-commonwealth PDP and pro-statehood NPP members of presidential, senatorial and congressional candidates is well known on the island. For example, Congressional representatives Luis Gutierrez and Nydia Velazquez and Senator Robert Menendez defend any pro-separatist, pro-commonwealth proposal and oppose any measure designed to bring about statehood, free association or independence. Why? Because they receive considerable funding from pro-commonwealth PDP forces, which by the way includes pharmaceutical companies, one of the largest lobbies from Puerto Rico given that in its heyday as a manufacturing industrial cluster numerous companies benefited from the territory's 936 tax exemptions, particularly pharmaceutical companies. This "anti-resolving the status issue stance" is particularly surprising coming from Congressman Gutierrez, who has said on numerous occasions that he is an independence supporter, and he said something along the lines of "sometimes you have to work within the system to bring it down." So why would he not support a bill that could bring about independence for Puerto Rico? It is because independence is unlikely to happen given that only 4-6% of the island support it, so it's better to do nothing and block any effort to resolve the issues while raising lobbyist money for your congressional campaign.
On the other hand, Congressman Serrano -- who was at some point on their side -- joined Congressman Young from Alaska and others to support bi-partisan legislation by which to achieve a non territorial solution to the status issue. Of course, they have been targeted for being recipients of lobbying money from the pro-statehood NPP.
Focusing on lobbying nexus among Congressman Gutierrez, Congresswoman Velazquez, current Gov Anibal Acevedo Vila and Sen. Menendez for the moment, it is not surprising to find that:
Pavía has been a registered lobbyist for various arms of the (pro-commonwealth) Puerto Rican government since 2001, according to disclosure reports filed with the U.S. Senate. His firm's total compensation for lobbying for the commonwealth over that period was more than $3 million.
For the first three months of this year alone, Winston & Strawn was paid $110,000 by the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, which is the government's primary lobbying entity in Washington. Pavía is listed as the firm's primary contact.
Note that this was under the pro-separatist, pro-commonwealth resident commissioner and gubernatorial term of Anibal Acevedo Vila, who at the time was railing against fmr pro-statehood Gov. Pedro Rossello for supposedly using commonwealth funds in the 90s in a corruption scheme to bring about statehood.
(As an aside: The feds and the local justice department exonerated fmr Gov Rossello while putting several members of his cabinet in prison for stealing federal funds. While exonerating fmr Gov Rossello, they have however indicted current Gov Acevedo Vila on 19 counts of corruption, some of which are eerily similar to what he accused Rossello of having done. As FDR responded when they asked him why he had appointed Joe Kennedy to be the first SEC Chairman given that Kennedy was a former bootlegger FDR responded: "Because it takes a crook to know a crook.")
The presidential candidates, Congress and the Senate says: "Puerto Rico, give us your money, and we will see what we can do." The NPP and the PDP compete to outspend each other each cycle and basically cancel each other out. In the meantime, K Street benefits immensely from such intense financial competition.
It's despicable that a civil rights issue for Puerto Ricans along the lines of what Obama and Clinton have said on the island (e.g., Puerto Ricans should have the right to vote) should entail millions of dollars of lobbying by the local parties. And to what end?
It should be noted that not a single bill other than the Young Bill has been passed in the US Congress to resolve the island's territorial status. And that bill was killed in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Why? Because the US was preoccupied with scolding a President who was playing with cigars in the Oval Office... And by the way, the death was facilitated by pro-commonwealth sectors of the island. I know this because as an informal adviser to a US Senator on the Committee, one of the first things he told me was: "A bunch of guys were here today claiming to be Democrats from Puerto Rico and offering me money to block the bill." In the meantime, what happened to the civil rights of Puerto Ricans (or should I say, American citizens) on the island? These American citizens live as second class citizens and have no voice in the federal and legislative branches of the island that influence their daily lives.
It is time for pro-commonwealth, statehood, independence, and free association advocates to stop this divisive politics and come together to demand that Congress tackle the issue. But it cannot happen without the help of American citizens on the mainland, who should be demanding that Congress do the same because there is no reason why there should be any second class citizens in the greatest democracy on Earth.
Why has Pelosi not pushed for Bill 900 for Puerto Ricans to have a vote -- yes or no -- to remain a US territory? Could it be that it is not in the best interest of Congressman Gutierrez, Congresswoman Velazquez and others who are on the pro-commonwealth lobbying payrolls?
The Obama solution is a constitutional assembly on the island. But we have been down this path before. Congress says: "It is up to you to determine what status you want." So then Puerto Ricans spend millions of dollars to hold an election and vote, e.g., for an enhanced commonwealth in the early 90's, and then they go with that vote to Congress, and Congress responds: "Well, it's too bad that that vote was not legally binding because we didn't authorize it, and by the way, the enhanced commonwealth is impossible within the realm of possible statuses for the island."
But then does Congress do something to resolve this? No. Do they clearly outline what are those statuses? Not directly, though the United Nations and constitutional law suggest that there are two options -- incorporated or unincorporated territories, the former leading to statehood or some form of commonwealth as in the case of Pennsylvania and other states, and the latter leading to some variants of independence, which are associated republic (an independent nation with a treaty with the United States) and independence.
I think it is incumbent upon American citizens on the mainland to join with their fellow American citizens on the island and demand that the US Congress address this issue. So perhaps when the netroots demands reforms from Pelosi, they could remind her of the unfinished job in the struggle for civil rights in the Latino community, a community that the Democrats will increasingly depend on to win elections.