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.


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