Saturday, April 14, 2012


It is no secret that Faleomavaega loves to travel. Going back to his days as lt. governor of American Samoa, he always has been on the road (or at sea or in the air) for a significant portion of each year. He once spent six weeks aboard a sailing canoe while in office (but the governor was said to be glad to be rid of him).. He is one non-voting delegate who probably was not unhappy about being stripped of his privilege of voting in the Committee of the Whole on the Floor of the House because his record of absenteeism is otherwise not recorded. One year, he was the most absent member of the entire House.

It would have been worse when he took over the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific in 2007, to which was added jurisdiction over the “global environment” to give him license to wander all over the world for the ensuing four years, but he got the gavel about the same time post-Abramoff reforms were put in place, so having access to the committee’s purse strings was insufficient to sate his wanderlust (over the course of his tenure he even has visited Thursday Island twice; not once but twice. It is an obscure island in the Torres Straits and is a domestic part of Australia--thus not part of Faleomavaega’s responsibilities at all).

When he returned to the minority after the 2010 election, we expected he would be more Washington-bound but were amazed that not having access to the committee travel budget did not seem to slow him down at all. Besides having no travel budget he also lost his floor vote again but that also freed him of any responsibility to stay in Washington and he could step up his travel if he could find a way. With reforms in place, we did not think he could but we were wrong.

Thanks to another investigation by ProPublica, we have learned that Faleomavaega can travel abroad under a little known 1961 law called the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act (MECEA). That act must bring tears of joy to his eyes because, under its provisions, he does not need to disclose his travel expenses at all. His little trips to Bahrain were covered under MECEA, which is how ProPublica discovered it. They stumbled over it in search of Faleomavaega’s relationship with a Bahrain lobbyist.

Once again do not hold your breath waiting for Samoa News, American Samoa’s daily newspaper, where his sister-in-law, who is the territory’s Democratic National Committeewoman, is an editor, or KHJ-FM, the one radio station that has local news programming, to cover this story. They both are in the tank for the delegate. The station’s news director seems enamoured with his seniority. The previous ProPublica story was buried in the online edition of the paper as an “opinion” piece (which it is not) and the radio never mentioned it all. This second story did not get even so much as a link.

It is curious that Faleomavaega has not hit back at either story but maybe he is still traveling, since the House is in recess and he has not been forced to react to any local treatment of the stories. Maybe he has decided instead to try quietly to explain his actions to his caucus leadership in order to preserve his leadership position on the committee and the possibility of rising further.

This being a national election year with the House up for grabs, you can bet there are campaigns all over the country (but probably not in American Samoa) that are furiously trying to piece together congressional travel under MECEA. ProPublica says it will be a time consuming process. If you want to read about this bubbling scandal, you can read ProPublica here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Faleomavaega and the Myth of Seniority

Earlier this week, in a Radio New Zealand International story about candidates starting to surface to take on Faleomavaega in this year’s election, RNZI correspondent Monica Miller said he would be tough to beat because “He’s very senior now and I think that a lot of people would say that if you were to elect somebody new, they would be faced with a tough time trying to establish themselves in Congress, which seniority counts. And that’s what I think works in his favor, his seniority.”

Whether Miller, a long time Pago Pago-based print and radio journalist who is Western Samoan with some Fijian heritage, is stating her own opinion or reflecting voter sentiment, she is repeating the myth of the value of seniority in Congress that, in Faleomavaega’s case, flies in the face of reality.

In an earlier post, we reported that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi would face a real dilemma if Faleomavaega were to find himself the most senior Democrat on Foreign Affairs after the election because she would have to decide whether to let such a loose cannon be the party’s chief spokesman in the House on international issues—a prospect that has Democrats and Republicans alike shuddering with trepidation. Even if Democrats remain in the minority, it would be much tougher to dislodge him from his perch once Democrats do regain control of the House in some future election, as they invariably will.

Despite being in poor health in recent years, with difficulty walking after painful foot surgery and slowed by heart surgery, the 69-year-old Faleomavaega shows no sign of retiring or cutting back his travel. Indeed, following his second stop this year in Bahrain, he pushed on to Asia, where he praised Malaysia’s growing democracy in remarks while visiting Kuala Lumpur. According to a Malaysian National News Agency report in yet another round-the-world whirlwind tour that took him nowhere near American Samoa.

None of this travel is likely to score him any points if he finds himself in a position to bid for the top Democrat position on the Foreign Affairs Committee next year, however. Moreover, while seniority is important in choosing committee and subcommittee leadership, it is not the ironclad determining factor it was before the Watergate reforms spearheaded a generation ago in the House, ironically by Faleomavaega’s and Pelosi’s mentor, the late Rep. Phil Burton (D-CA).

In a February 13 New York Times article about the likelihood that redistricting would force out a number of senior members of the California delegation this year, Pelosi had this to say: “There’s a lot to be said about mixing it up generationally, to have a constant invigoration of Congress with new fresh eyes and fresh voices.”

Characterized by the Times as describing seniority as “overrated,” Pelosi went on to say about the California situation: “Yes, we have new people coming in. We have people who won’t be coming back. But in terms of the influence of this state, we have plenty of people here who have standing on issues. She argued, “There are many members who have more seniority than I do, and I was the speaker of the House.”

The top five Democrats on Foreign Affairs could figure in a game of musical chairs if the first man to lose his seat is Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA). Redistricting has forced Berman, the top ranking Democrat on the committee, into an election match up with Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), number five on the totem pole. The second ranking member is Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) who has chosen to retire rather than seek re-election in a district significantly altered by redistricting in his state. Faleomavaega ranks third and a fellow member of his class of 1988, Rep. Elliott Engel (D-NY) ranks forth.

Ignoring the fact that Faleomavaega outranks him, yesterday Sherman told a respected congressional newspaper, The Hill, that he would seek the top spot on Foreign Affairs if he defeated Berman in November. Polls currently have Sherman holding a comfortable lead in their race. At the same time, the Hill reported “If Sherman defeats Berman, he is likely to face a challenge from at least one senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Eliott Engel (D-N.Y.), who ranks directly below Sherman in seniority,” saying that he would ‘probably make the run’ if Berman was voted out of Congress.”

Significantly, while noting Faleomavaega’s seniority earlier in the story, The Hill made no mention of that fact when reporting a potential Engel run. Engel actually outranks Sherman both on the committee and in the House while Faleomavaega outranks them both on the committee but is lower ranked than classmate Elliott in the caucus by reason of the alphabet. However, it is clear from these stories that no one sees Faleomavaega’s seniority as being of any consequence: not Pelosi, not Sherman and not Engel.

Just as Asia-Pacific Caucus Chairman Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) passed over his long time Vice Chairman Faleomaveaga to back freshman Rep, Judy Chu (D-CA) as his Caucus leadership successor (with Faleomavaega moving to the back bench to be replaced ironically by his much more junior fellow Del. Madeleine Bordallo [D-GU]), Faleomavaega seems destined to be passed over once again, this time by either Sherman or Elliott. The Hill also noted that “(t)he powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) [has] declined to weigh in on the race.” Both Elliott and Sherman are Jewish, as is Berman and the retiring Ackerman. AIPAC no doubt would prefer a Jewish chairman with strong ties to Israel, lengthening the odds against Faleomavaega even more.

Of course, none of this ever gets reported by Monica Miller or the territory’s only daily newspaper, Samoa News, where Faleomavaega’s sister-in-law is an editor at the same time she is a member of the U.S. Democratic Party’s National Committee. It is unclear if Miller or anyone at the paper follows this blog but readers are encouraged to send them the link to this story with our pleas for them to stop touting Faleomavaega’s seniority. And please pass this message to his campaign opponents as well: Faleomavaega has gone as far as his seniority is going to take him in Congress. He is not going to be the full committee ranking member or chairman and ought not even to try. If you want proof, challenge him to produce a letter from Pelosi committing her support to him because of his seniority. That letter will not come.

He has as high a pension as he is going to get, he is not going to have any influence on policy because his party is going to remain in the minority at least until he is into his 70s, he already has lost his bid to be chairman of the Asia-Pacific Caucus and the ProPublica story about his connections to a Bahrain and Kazahkstan lobbyist threaten to damage what little standing he does have (with a second instalment published just yesterday).

Rick Santorum got out of the Republican presidential race because he saw the handwriting on the wall. There is still time for Faleomavaega to retire gracefully rather than face the humiliation of being passed over for the full committee chairmanship he has coveted for 20 years. He can't influence policy and he can't make any more money. Why is he hanging on? There surely is a nice cushy, well paying job waiting for him at the Kazakhstan-Bahrain lobbyist’s office while he also collects his nice full pension.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Faleomavaega Hypocrisy on Full Display

Writing in Salon for the vacationing Glenn Greenwald, Murtaza Hussain citicizes U.S. policy towards Bahrain, saying "the U.S. government continues to support the Al-Khalifa regime in the face of its democratic uprising and refuses to publicly call for the release of . . . pro-democracy activists." Murtaza is a Toronto-based writer and commentator on issues related to politics and foreign policy whose work has previously been featured in Salon, Al Jazeera English, Bikya Masr (Egypt) and other outlets.

Hussain singles out American Samoa Congressional Delegate Faleomavaega for special condemnation, saying "the Bahraini regime has also been expended huge resources on a lobbying campaign to manage its public image and to influence members of Congress to shield it from pressure over its rights violations. Democratic Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, one of whose major campaign donors heads a lobbying firm serving the Bahraini government, has in particular emerged as a staunch public defender of the regime’s crackdown. At the height of the violence campaign of repression towards protestors and just days after the government tore down the iconic Pearl Monument in Manama which had served as a symbol of the revolution, Faleomavaega came out in defense of the regime and asked 'why the demonstrators are protesting again, even after all their demands were agreed to.' No one except Faleomavaega knows which demands had been 'met,' as Bahrain today remains governed by an undemocratic monarchy which tortures and imprisons its citizens with impunity."

Read the full article here:

Being in the pocket of a Bahrain lobbyist seems like a good explanation for Faleomavaega's position on Bahrain, which is the opposite of the stance he has taken on Indonesia's handling of pro-democracy forces in West Papua. Hypocrisy is alive and well.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Barry’s Comments Parallel Past Faleomavaega Rants

Comments by former mayor--now District of Columbia City Councilman--Marion Barry have touched off a firestorm that has forced the controversial politician to walk them back. Shortly after winning the Democratic nomination this week for another term on the Council, Barry said “We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops,” with TV news cameras rolling. “They ought to go. I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

Although even long term allies have rebuked Barry, he likely would find an ally in American Samoa Congressional Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS), who himself has decried the proliferation of Asian-owned businesses in American Samoa.

On Dec. 27, 2007, Radio New Zealand International reported that Faleomavaega “is calling on local residents to start running their businesses themselves. The congressman says Asian business owners are operating companies that are licensed to local people.” He went on to say “the day will come when native American Samoans of Samoan ancestry will be the ones cleaning the streets, working in low paying jobs, while those of Asian ancestry are in control of both the government and private sector. If this happens in the future, no one else should be blamed but our own leaders and people who make this happen.”

Samoa News wrote he also admitted that he had raised this issue for many years with local leaders regarding the high number of Asians coming into the territory and asked for the government to review local laws and make necessary revisions.

Indeed, earlier, in May, 2003, Faleomavaega went so far as to ask for a U.S. General Accounting Office investigation of Asian business in the territory. Although in a Samoa News story he insisted it was not a “witch hunt,” it certain sounds like one. Whenever someone says a duck is not a duck, even though it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a good sign he knows you are going to think it’s a duck because it IS a duck.

Read carefully: "There appears to be a lack of cohesion in the local business community," he was quoted as saying in the 2003 article in a remark reminiscent of President Jimmy Carter’s comment about “ethnic purity.” "The Territory has seen the creation of Korean, Chinese and Filipino Chambers of Commerce which has led to questions regarding the equality of business opportunities in the Territory and whether uniform business standards apply."

He went on to say that “foreigners” operating their own Chambers of Commerce outside of the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce, "gives a clear indication that our business community is not together."

"I don't see anything positive about it except that every faction is going after what is out there for themselves without collective efforts as a business community as a whole," he concluded, without waiting even waiting for his GAO study to begin let alone end.

It is no small irony, of course, that even a cursory review of Faleomavaega’s campaign donation reports over the years reveals an unusually high percentage of contributors with Asian names, mostly clustered in California far from American Samoa news reports. In fact, his huge Asian donor base became a campaign issue one year.

Barry’s remarks were roundly condemned by Washington local civic and political leaders of all stripes, including Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), who said she “was stunned by the offensive nature of the comments” and called Barry immediately, according to The Washington Times and said she reminded him of their values and lengthy relationship, which included fighting for racial justice in the South.

There is no record of Norton similarly condemning her congressional colleague Faleomavaega after his outbursts in American Samoa but, in fairness, it is not her constituency and she undoubtedly was unaware of what he said in any event. After the initial local stories in American Samoa, there was no local outcry among leaders or local people and there was no follow up by the media, which is not unusual.

Much like ProPublica’s story this week of Faleomavaega’s relationship to a Washington lobbyist for Bahrain and Kazahkstan interests, the story had no legs and dropped like a stone into a bottomless well: no splash.

Faleomavaega this week drew his first 2012 election challenger, a retired army warrant officer working at the local junior college who got something like six or seven percent of the vote when she ran against him in 2008. She is not likely to comment and if she does, the local media likely will not report it. Nor will the local media seek her out for comment. No one ever accused American Samoans of being politically correct.

Sorry, folks. If you don’t read it here, you won’t read it anywhere. That’s just the way it is.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Faleomavaega Bahrain Story May Ease Path for Dem Decision on His Future

If Faleomavaega follows past practice, he will go after ProPublica tooth and nail over the Pulitzer-Prize-winning on-line investigative journal’s revelation that the Samoan delegate’s ties to a Washington lobbyist may be prompting his choice of causes. If he chose to ignore it, there probably would be few consequences at home, where the biggest threat to his re-election—the outgoing governor, already has taken himself out of the running.

Moreover, Faleomavaega continues to be protected by the local media, with the territory’s only daily newspaper, Samoa News, as we predicted, buried the Bahrain story in its on-line edition with a hyperlink in the opinion section, not the much more widely read news section. That the story has been little noticed so far is evident by the absence of any on-line reader comments. Compounding difficulties in gaining traction, Faleomavaega’s sister-in-law is an editor and occasional correspondent for Samoa News, which seems not to notice she also is the territory’s Democratic National Committeewoman.

Both she and Faleomavaega, of course, will be delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer, where they can high-five each other at their success at keeping bad news from the Samoan public.

However, the reason Faleomavaega can be expected to strike out against the Bahrain story is that left unchallenged the piece could fatally damage his aspirations of becoming the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In so doing, he would become the first non-voting territorial delegate ever to chair a full committee and his prospects for achieving that distinction (and that place in history) have risen considerably with the retirement of Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), one of the two House members ahead of him on the panel, and the electoral difficulties of the other.

A poll reported just yesterday by the Roll Call newspaper shows the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), losing his re-election bid to fellow Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) at this point. The two congressmen, who were thrown together into a new district by the California redistricting process, will face off in a June 5 primary in which the top two finishers, regardless of party, win face each other in November. Both men are well ahead of other challengers and are expected to survive the June tilt.

In the event Sherman does defeat Berman in November while Democrats are regaining control of the House, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would face the immediate decision of whether to elevate Faleomavaega to the chairmanship; but even if her party falls short of capturing control, as Minority Leader she still would need to decide whether to allow Faleomavaega to succeed Berman as Ranking Minority Member. To do so would make it much harder to dislodge him at a future election in which Democrats would become the ruling party again.

This Bahrain story could make it much easier for her to tap someone like Rep. Elliott Engel (D-NY) for the top slot, particularly since Engel actually is just above Faleomavaega in caucus seniority (thanks to the alphabet—they both came into office the same day); he ranks below Faleomavaega on the committee because he joined it later.

So, Faleomavaega cannot afford to let this story go unchallenged. He is with a congressional delegation in Bahrain at this moment so it may be a few days before his response is issued. That is probably a good thing for him because in the past he has shown a proclivity for having knee-jerk reactions to unfavorable stories in the press. He really needs to have a cooler head this time because ProPublica is not some right wing blog put out by some pajama-clad zealot on his laptop in his bed but a well financed, well regarded, lower Manhattan-based, Pulitzer-prize-winning organization that employs a number of Pulitzer-winning investigative journalists and partners with some the country’s most powerful publications that carry its reports, including the New York Times, The Washington Post and television’s 60 Minutes program.

Readers who want to learn more about the credibility of ProPublica can watch this speech on YouTube delivered by its top editor, Paul Steiger. Steiger, who has a 41-year journalistic track record that concluded with 15 years as managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, acknowledges that some skeptics question ProPublica’s political leanings because its founders and some of its other major funders are linked to prominent liberal organizations. However, if anything, their integrity on this heavily sourced story is reinforced because Faleomavaega himself is a Liberal Democrat who in fact was a founding member of the far left Congressional Progressive Caucus (although after initially defending his membership in response to a critical story in a regional newsmagazine, he quietly left the group a few years ago).

Faleomavaega’s challenge, then, is to effectively rebut the ProPublica story without attacking the organization in a way that would cause a backlash against him. Clearly, we think the pages of this blog provide plenty of leads to other questionable actions on his part over the years. Those who have the resources are welcome to start digging.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Faleomavaega Exposed as Bahrain’s Shill in Congress

The New York City based non-profit, Pulitzer Prize-winning corporation ProPublica, which describes itself as an independent non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest, has published a major investigation into American Samoa congressional delegate Eni Faleomavaega’s activities on behalf of the Kingdom of Bahrain.

In an exposÄ› entitled “Meet Bahrain’s Best Friend in Congress,” ProPublica investigative reporter Justin Elliott revealed that Faleomavaega has taken two, all-expenses-paid trips to the oil-rich Persian Gulf Kingdom and has received major campaign contributions from a Washington lobbyist on Bahrain issues. Indeed, the campaign donations of that lobbyist and his wife amounted to over seven percent of Faleomavaega’s receipts in the 2010 campaign cycle.

Elliott did miss his mark by suggesting that Faleomavaega spends most of his time on American Samoa and Pacific Island issues, however. Readers of this blog are well aware that Faleomavaega has a well-deserved reputation as a globetrotter who hardly ever passes up a foreign trip, especially when it is all-expenses-paid. Indeed, when he chaired the Asia-Pacific subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, his caucus widened the panel’s jurisdiction to include “global environmental issues,” which gave him license to travel all over the world and to access to the committee’s piggy bank for four years.

ProPublica is also inaccurate in stating the delegate “has no history of commenting on Middle East affairs.” To the contrary, he has made numerous trips to that region and made impassioned speeches on the House Floor opposing the Iraq War and President Bush’s surge. Neither of these oversights, however, does damage to ProPublica’s thoroughly researched report on Faleomavaega’s support of Bahrain and conclusions as to why he has done so.

Whether or not there is enough material here for someone to file a complaint with the House Ethics Committee, there is enough in Elliott’s report for others to examine whether campaign contributions and/or free trips abroad have played any role in other stances he has taken over the years, including his fulsome praise for Kazakhstan dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev.

It will be interesting to see if the ProPublica investigation gets any play in American Samoa’s only daily newspaper, Samoa News, where Faleomavaega’s sister-in-law is an editor while at the same time holding the position of the territory’s Democratic National Committeewoman. More likely, especially in an election year, this story will be swept under the rug or limited to a hyperlink in its on-line edition, which is read more overseas than it is on island. Faleomavaega can be expected to attack the story but he will not be able to fall back on the charge that it is a right wing hit job because ProPublica’s chairman has a record of support for liberal organizations and the organization’s top two editors are a former managing editor at the Wall Street Journal and a former New York Times editor.

The story can be found here: