|Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore|
By Bob Cusack
Trying to kill legislation championed by the No. 2 Republican in the House, a conservative lawmaker is planning to make his case to the chamber’s top decision maker, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
To the dismay of Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and some large corporations, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is seeking to insert a controversial Cuba trademark measure into the defense authorization bill, which is now in conference.
DeLay’s bill — as well as alternative approach crafted by Flake and Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) — were both crafted so that the U.S. trademark laws would be in compliance with a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling. The WTO has held that parts of a law passed in 1999 violate the agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights and has given the United States until the end of this year to change it.
Several large companies are lobbying against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s bill.
Critics of DeLay’s bill say the measure would only benefit rum maker Bacardi-Martini Inc. and harm other businesses that have a significant financial interest in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.
The majority leader has repeatedly criticized Castro and has vigorously fought legislative efforts to normalize relations with the communist regime. DeLay believes his legislative fix, which has not been formally introduced, would protect U.S. interests and hurt Castro.
Flake calls DeLay’s arguments “baloney,” adding, “He’s wrong. … [His] bill would only help one company.”
The Arizona legislator says businesses “are incensed” about the possibility of DeLay’s bill being signed into law, adding that he is planning to talk directly with Hastert on the issue. That conversation is expected to take place within the next week.
Hastert’s stance on the DeLay bill is politically intriguing. Two large Illinois-based companies, Boeing and Caterpillar, are members of the National Foreign Trade Council, which supports Flake’s legislation (H.R. 2494).
Caterpillar also signed on to a letter that indirectly criticized DeLay’s measure by saying Flake’s bill is “the only way” to comply fully with international obligations and protect U.S. trademarks.
A Hastert spokesman did not return phone calls seeking comment.
This complicated intellectual property debate has pitted some conservatives against DeLay, a major policymaker in the conservative movement. It has also put DeLay and major employers on opposite sides in a fierce lobbying effort that will likely be decided over the next several weeks.
Companies that support Flake’s bill include DaimlerChrysler, DuPont, Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Halliburton, Eastman Kodak, and the Grocery Manufacturers of America.
These companies point out that there are more than 5,000 trademarks registered in Cuba that are vulnerable to counterfeiting and infringement.
Industry lobbyists say they have to tread lightly, acknowledging the awkwardness of taking on DeLay.
Flake, meanwhile, is talking tough. He told The Hill, “We wanted to [fix] this quietly, but if we have to make a lot of noise, we will.”
The outspoken Arizona legislator is known for bucking his leaders on key matters; he voted against the House GOP Medicare reform bill, supported the drug reimportation measure and endorsed a bill that seeks to lift the travel ban to Cuba.
Other House Republicans who support H.R. 2494 include Jim Ramstad (Minn.), Judy Biggert (Ill.), Amo Houghton, Jr. (N.Y.), Nancy Johnson (Conn.) and George Nethercutt (Wash.).
Opponents of DeLay’s bill maintain that it would help Bacardi secure the rights to the rum label “Havana Club” while jeopardizing the trademarks of other companies. These officials say DeLay seeks to change parts of the law that WTO objected to instead of repealing them – as Flake’s bill would do.
They add that unless the law is completely repealed, Castro could have a legal basis to infringe on all American trademarks registered in Cuba. If Bacardi’s label is protected, Castro might infringe on other trademarks in retaliation.
Bacardi’s problem is that Pernod-Ricard, a French company that works with the Cuban government to sell a Havana Club rum, has argued that it has the rights to the label. This dispute moved from the courts to Congress after the 1999 law was
DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella maintains DeLay’s approach would protect U.S. companies from “predatory” French businesses that work closely with Castro.
Citizens Against Government Waste, a conservative group, has also spoken out against DeLay’s effort to help Bacardi.
Bacardi officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Flake and three House Democrats last month notified the House and Senate committees on armed services of the DeLay bill. The Oct. 14 letter stated, “It is important to note that the [DeLay language] did not go through the committee process. … It would be unfortunate if the purported ‘fix’ language also was not properly reviewed in the Judiciary Committee.”
A House Armed Services aide declined to comment on the fate of the DeLay language, saying only that a vote on the defense authorization conference report is expected soon.
John Ullyot, a spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee, declined to comment but pointed out the DeLay language was not included in either the House or Senate bills.
Lobbyists who support Flake’s measure say they expect DeLay to attach his language to any vehicle that is moving through Congress this year.
A legal watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has called on the IRS to investigate why the Americans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee failed to report Bacardi as a contributor to a 2002 golf event hosted by DeLay in Puerto Rico.
The group’s director, Melanie Sloan, said, “This is just another example of Tom DeLay playing fast and loose with ethics laws.”
Grella has disputed claims that DeLay’s actions are a result of Bacardi’s political contributions.
An IRS spokesman said the agency never comments publicly on whether an investigation requested by a third-party has been launched.
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