Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Foreign Funds May Have Been Funneled to Faleomavaega

One of the more curious aspects of Faleomavaega's career has been his devotion to issues
involving Kazahkstan, a central Asian country he has visited numerous times.  Central Asian
countries have never been under the legislative jurisdiction of the Asia-Pacific subcomittee on
which he serves and which he chaired from 2007 to this January.  The mutual love relationship
has been so great that the Kazakh government once even took out an advertisement in the
Washington Post to sing Faleomavaega's praises.  Now it may be coming more clear.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) is a thirty-year-old nonpartisan, independent, watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO, which, according to its mission statement, investigates "corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government," has turned its attention to Kazahkstan's cozy relations with members of Congress.

The POGO investigation has uncovered circumstantial evidence that strongly supports some claims that the Kazakh Embassy has used lobbyists to create two separate caucuses dedicated to supporting its interests: the Friends of Kazakhstan caucus and the Caucus on Central Asia.  Employees from the lobbying firms hired to create the most recent caucus—the Caucus on Central Asia—have donated thousands of dollars to every member that has served in a leadership capacity of that caucus.

According to POGO: "One Member of Congress, Delegate Eni Faleomavaega from American Samoa, a co-chair and driving force behind the creation of the Central Asia caucus, particularly stands out. In the 2010 election cycle, two of Faleomavaega’s top organizational contributors had been under contract with the Republic of Kazakhstan: Employees and family members from Policy Impact Communications, the lobbying firm hired to create the Central Asia caucus, contributed $4,800, making the firm Faleomavaega’s second largest organizational contributor; and another firm, Steptoe and Johnson, which is the Republic of Kazakhstan’s outside counsel, contributed $2,000 through its Political Action Committee."

Faleomavaega long has been the subject of criticism by his opponents for relying on big contributors with Asian names living in California and labor unions with no activities in American Samoa for the lion's share of his campaign budgets.   A few maximum contributions from these special interests will buy a lot of  election day plate lunches for voters.  He always seems to be able to tap these same sources time and again for all the money he needs to ward off stiff challenges.   His supporters insist donors with Asian names are legal contributors interested in his work on the Foreign Affairs Committee, with some having interest on his position on tuna boats built in Taiwan whose owners want access to the South Pacific through American Samoa.  He switched his position recently to oppose the legislative change necessary to clear the way for the boats so it will be interesting to see what contributors drop off his list this next campaign.

Meanwhile, there is no telling where the POGO investigation is going.  The full details of the scandal can be read here: http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/2011/06/kazakhstan-family-feud-engtagles-members-of-congress.html.   One thing is almost certain: don't hold your breath waiting for Samoa News, where Faleomavaega's sister-in-law is an editor, to report on this issue.  Expect this to be swept under the rug the way they have minimized almost every controversy involving Faleomavaega over the years.

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