|Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore|
By Klaus Marre
Citing a “pattern of flagrantly violating campaign finance laws,” a watchdog group yesterday filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against the political action committee (PAC) of rum maker Bacardi.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonpartisan and nonprofit watchdog group, filed the complaint against the PAC and its Treasurer Robert Higdon, for failing to provide campaign finance reports and for not disclosing contributions made to lawmakers.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) are among the lawmakers to receive money from the Bacardi PAC.
CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said: “How many times can one company make secret contributions to Tom DeLay before the government steps in?”
In March, the group filed a similar complaint, and last year it asked the IRS to audit DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority PAC (ARMPAC) because it did not disclose that Bacardi gave free liquor and hats to attendees of an ARMPAC fundraiser.
Sloan said it is “pretty unusual” that a PAC would just decide not to file an FEC report, adding that Bacardi’s inaction “completely violates everything about the [campaign finance] law” and that “inevitably, the FEC will do something about it.”
The PAC did not file an electronic year-end report for 2003 although it has been advised by the FEC that it is required to do so.
According to Bacardi’s paper submission, the PAC made contributions of $8,500 in the second half of last year but the filing did not indicate to whom the money was given, CREW alleges.
The group also claims that Bacardi also made at least three contributions in the first quarter of this year that were not disclosed to the FEC, including a $2,500 contribution to ARMPAC, a $1,000 contribution to Nelson and a $1,000 contribution to the campaign of Connie Mack, a Republican candidate for Florida’s 14th Congressional District and son of former Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), who now lobbies for Bacardi.
Recipients of the undisclosed contributions have all supported Cuban trademark legislation, which critics say would only benefit Bacardi.
Sloan said she hopes that the FEC would have found the undisclosed contributions by itself. She added that the campaign donations “were easy to find” because the recipients, other than DeLay, all have signed on to the legislation.
Although not a co-sponsor this year, DeLay tried to insert the trademark language into a defense authorization bill. Critics of the legislation say it would help Bacardi in a trademark dispute over the popular “Havana Club” label with the Cuban government. They add that if it was signed into law, the bill could negatively affect U.S. companies if Cuba retaliated by not honoring American trademarks.
According to FEC’s website, because of the PAC’s limited activity, the fines for not filing the reports on time would be limited, although they increase with each prior violation. Bacardi has no prior violations with the FEC.
However, if the FEC determines that the failure to disclose contributions was a “knowing and willful” violation of campaign finance laws, it could impose stiffer penalties oft $10,000 per violation.
Calls to Bacardi’s PAC and DeLay’s office were not returned by press time.
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