Schaffer’s Ties to Mariana Sweatshop Scandal Heads North to Alaska

PhotobucketThere’s an old saying that goes, “all politics are local.” This quip even spans the 4,307 miles between Denver and Anchorage. In an investigative report in Sunday’s Anchorage Daily News about jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s connection to Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young, Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Bob Schaffer’s name wasn’t hard to miss. In the story, “Billing records expose Young, Abramoff ties,” reporter Richard Mauer looked into jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s influence over the House Resources Committee, which was chaired by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, from 1994 to 2000, and included Schaffer in its membership. During those years, the committee successfully killed proposed legislation to rein in sweatshop and slave-labor practices in the garment industry on the Mariana Islands.

From the story:

Rep. Don Young has said he never allowed convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff to be an influential force over him in Congress. But now a trove of old billing records from two of Abramoff’s firms show that his team of lobbyists had more than 120 contacts with Young’s personal and committee staffs over 25 months, including at least 10 with Young himself.

Young first faced criticism related to Abramoff over his efforts as Resources chairman to preserve the freewheeling Mariana economy. Investigations by the government, media and human rights groups uncovered widespread abuses in the garment industry and among sex workers there starting in the mid-1990s, but Young asserted those investigations were bogus.

Now the 900-plus pages of Abramoff billing records and memos associated with the Mariana Islands are telling more of the story, though they represent only a fraction of Abramoff’s total business activities from the 1990s until his first guilty plea on Jan. 3, 2006.

Some of those records are also coming into play in Colorado, where The Denver Post has been writing about another congressman with Abramoff and Mariana Islands ties, former Rep. Bob Schaffer, a Republican now running for U.S. Senate.

As a member of Young’s Resources Committee, Schaffer took a free trip to the Mariana Islands arranged by Abramoff’s law firm, then played a central role in a 1999 committee hearing investigating Interior Department officials in the Clinton administration who were trying to rein in the Saipan government.

Last week in local media across the state, Schaffer grabbed headlines about his visit to sweatshops in the Marianas. Schaffer claims he only found one instance of abuse in the 20 sites he toured.

Here is a recap of the Schaffer trip by Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo:

Schaffer has denied any connections to Abramoff and the lobbyist’s staff when he served on the House Resources Committee. However, as noted in The Anchorage Daily News story, records at Abramoff’s law firm said Abramoff was closely monitoring legislation in 2000 that would have alleviated sweatshop conditions in the Marianas. Abramoff wrote that his staff would “continue meeting with House Resources Committee Members and staff to advocate rejection.”

Photo credit: Papers of Congressman Bob Schaffer, CSU Archives and Special Collections

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Leslie Robinson

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