My Congressman, Indentured Servitude, Forced Abortions, and Jack Abramoff

In 1996, convicted felon Jack Abramoff used my Congressman, Doc Hastings, then a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, to prevent regulation of the Northern Mariana Islands. [1] Abramoff, and his team of lobbyists, then represented the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, a South Pacific territory of the United States. [2] Abramoff’s firm received at least $6.7 million for its lobbying efforts on behalf of the Commonwealth. [3] In turn, my congressman did the bidding of Jack Abramoff, thereby allowing slave labor, the sex trade, and forced abortions to continue on the Northern Marianas.  

In the 1990s, the Northern Mariana Islands, some of the northernmost islands in the Micronesian chain, faced sharp criticism from Democrats in the United States Congress. [4] The territory’s factory workers, mostly Chinese and Filipino, were lured to the islands by false promises, toiled in “sweatshops,” and were paid less than the U.S. minimum wage. [5] Many of the workers, including children, worked under indentured servitude conditions, including twenty-hour work days and a lack of payment of wages. [6] The squalid working conditions, included fire hazards, air unfit for breathing, contaminated food, and unsanitary water. [7] Employers fired pregnant workers or forced them to obtain an abortion, while poor performers became sex slaves. [8] “This is a dark, dark place in America,” stated one former garment worker while driving beneath the warm tropical sun past one of the covert abortion clinics. [9] She added: “It’s a nightmare here.” [10] At the same time, clothing produced in the Northern Marianas was allowed to carry the “Made in the USA” label. [11]

In the 1990s, Congressional Democrats and the Clinton administration sought to increase the Northern Mariana Islands’ minimum wage and provide other labor protections for garment workers. [12] As the result of pending legislation, the Northern Marianas could use the assistance of a high power lobbyist on Capitol Hill. [13] In an effort to convince the commonwealth’s government to hire his firm, Preston Gates Ellis & Rovellas Meeds, as its lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, in early 1995, wrote to the Northern Marianas’ lieutenant governor. [14] In the letter, Abramoff bragged that his firm had an “excellent relationship” with Doc Hastings, congressman from central Washington. [15] Two weeks later, in a similar letter to the commonwealth’s governor, Abramoff repeated the comment about Hastings. [16]

Upon their hire by the commonwealth, Preston Gates lobbyists desired Doc Hastings’ support of the Northern Marianas government in blocking the Democratic proposal, which would impose United States labor and immigration laws upon the United States territory. [17] Abramoff associates had at least thirty-six meetings with Doc Hastings’ office in 1996-7. [18] On June 1, 1996, an Abramoff assistant spoke by phone to Ed Cassidy and Chuck Berwick, two Hastings’ aides. [19] On June 20, a Preston Gates lobbyist discussed proposed questions, with Berwick, for Congressman Hastings to ask at a June 26 Native American and Insular Affairs Subcommittee hearing. [20] Cassidy, Berwick, and Doug Riggs, another Hastings’ assistant, discussed the proposed legislation with Abramoff assistants in the days before and after the June 26, 1996, subcommittee hearing. [21]

According to billing records, Doc Hastings himself met with an Abramoff associate on June 25 for purposes of preparing Hastings for questioning witnesses and delivering an opening statement at the subcommittee hearing. [22] In a June 1996 report to the Northern Mariana Islands’ government, Jack Abramoff’s lobbying team claimed a successful push to get Hastings to attend a hearing on oversight of the Marianas as one of its achievements for the month. [23]

Ironically, during the June 26, 1996, subcommittee hearing, Doc Hastings failed to ask questions of any witness. [24] Nevertheless, Hastings stated he had a “particular interest” in hearing from witnesses about the Northern Marianas and then introduced a prepared statement into the record in which he praised the islands’ government for “moving in the right direction toward self-sufficiency.” [25] In his statement, Hastings praised the commonwealth for “weaning” itself from federal dependency and for its economic growth. [26] Hastings warned any effort to impose tougher labor or immigration standards would result in the loss of jobs and businesses. [27] “It would suddenly halt the commonwealth’s economic growth,” he said. [28] Doc Hastings also warned that the imposition of the minimum wage “could crush its fragile economy.” [29] At the hearing, Hastings also asked that an editorial, published in The Washington Times, supporting the position of the Northern Marianas’ government on labor issues, be placed in The Congressional Record. [30] Doc Hastings, a professed Christian, promoter of family values, and opponent of abortion, expressed no concern for the sexual slavery, sexual tourism, or forced abortions rampant on the islands.

Billing records show that the Washington Times editorial’s author was a paid consultant to Preston Gates. [31] At the time the newspaper published the editorial, Jack Abramoff, in a letter to a commonwealth official, praised the piece and said he intended to spread the article “all over Capitol Hill.” [32]

Ed Cassidy, Doc Hastings’ assistant, denied any lobbying contact of any sort with Jack Abramoff. [33] Cassidy also stated neither he, nor Hastings, recalled how the Washington Times article came into Hastings’ possession. [34] Cassidy claimed Hastings had no idea that the author, of the Washington Times article, was affiliated with Preston Gates, adding that the lawmaker “reads that paper every day, rain or shine, and doesn’t typically call up the columnists to ask who paid their salaries that week.” [35]

According to lobbying records, Jack Abramoff’s firm repeatedly billed the Northern Marianas for meetings and telephone conversations between Abramoff’s lobbying team and Representative Hastings’ staff. [36] The name of Jack Abramoff, the chief lobbyist for the island territory, appears on the invoices. [37] According to billing records, Jack Abramoff spoke directly to Doug Riggs, in March 1997. [38] Hastings’ name also appears in correspondence between Abramoff and the government of the Northern Mariana Islands. [39]

Preston Gates’ political action committee contributed $14,000 to Doc Hastings’ campaigns, including $1,000 from Jack Abramoff. [40] One of the contributions, for $500, came in conjunction with a Hastings fundraiser, on June 26, 1996, the day of the subcommittee hearing on the Northern Mariana Islands. [41] Ed Cassidy insists the timing of the contribution to be a coincidence. [42]

During an interview in 2005, Doug Riggs, the former Hastings’ aide and now a lobbyist himself, claimed that Jack Abramoff’s “track record is one of deceit and dishonesty. We all knew it.” [43]

In 1998, the United States Department of the Interior prepared a report that documented the trafficking of Russian and Chinese women for the purpose of prostitution as well as an overall

worsening of conditions for foreign workers on the Marianas. [44] Nevertheless, a Senate bill to reform working conditions and wages on the Northern Mariana Islands failed, in the same year, because the bill met opposition in the House of Representatives House Resource Committee, on which Doc Hastings sat. [45] “We then stopped it [the bill] cold in the House,” Abramoff wrote in a 2001 letter to Marianas’ Governor Pedro P. Tenorio. [46] In turn, Representative George Miller (D-CA) remarked about his Republican colleagues on the House Resource Committee: “It’s so ironic that people who talk about themselves as having family values are allowing these guest workers to be exploited in the harshest possible ways.” [47]

On March 18, 1998, the ABC News program 20/20 exposed the enslavement of women and forced prostitution and abortions on the Northern Mariana Islands. [48] The program documented agreements, signed by workers, demanding that workers not engage in any political or religious activities, not ask for a salary increase, or not even fall in love or get married. In 1999, the Clinton Department of Justice convicted traffickers of women. Still, my Congressman Doc Hastings would not criticize the Marianas economy or express regret for his support for the Marianas’ practices.

On January 3, 2006, Jack Abramoff pled guilty to three criminal charges: tax evasion, corruption of a public official, and mail fraud. [49] On January 4, 2006, Abramoff pled guilty to two more charges, conspiracy and wire fraud. [50] He now sits in a federal prison, in Cumberland, Maryland. [51] Hastings’ aide Ed Cassidy now serves Congressman John Boehner, the Republican House Leader, and advises Boehner on ethics issues. [52]

In 2008, Colorado Right to Life blasted Colorado Congressman Bob Schaffer (R), then a candidate for the United States Senate, for boosting the Northern Marianas and his failure to investigate and end forced abortions. [53] No Right to Life organization has criticized Doc Hastings for his praise and promotion of the Northern Mariana Islands.

In November 2008, my congressman Doc Hastings won a landslide re-election to his eighth term in Congress. When his Democratic opponent mentioned, during the campaign, Hastings’ connections to Jack Abramoff and Hastings’ failure to end workplace and sexual slavery in the Northern Marianas, Hastings, through his staff, replied: “I’m not sure he [the opponent] could be more out of touch with the voters of Central Washington.” [54]

Notes

[1] Alicia Mundy, “Pasco Congressman in Rare Spotlight,” Seattle Times, June 10, 2005; Michael Hedges and Samantha Levine, “Ethics panel chair linked to lobby firm – Rep. Hastings had contact with office of Abramoff now part of probe into DeLay trips,” Houston Chronicle, June 9, 2005.

[2] Alicia Mundy, “Pasco Congressman in Rare Spotlight,” Seattle Times, June 10, 2005; Michael Hedges and Samantha Levine, “Ethics panel chair linked to lobby firm – Rep. Hastings had contact with office of Abramoff now part of probe into DeLay trips,” Houston Chronicle, June 9, 2005.

[3] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14; Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 8, 2005; M-01-05:Survey of CNMI-Contracted Lobbyist Activities, January 1994 through September 2001, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Office of Public Auditor, November 9, 2001.

[4] Alicia Mundy, “Pasco Congressman in Rare Spotlight,” Seattle Times, June 10, 2005; Michael Hedges and Samantha Levine, “Ethics panel chair linked to lobby firm – Rep. Hastings had contact with office of Abramoff now part of probe into DeLay trips,” Houston Chronicle, June 9, 2005; Rebecca Clarren, “Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists,” Ms. Magazine, Spring 2006.

[5] Alicia Mundy, “Pasco Congressman in Rare Spotlight,” Seattle Times, June 10, 2005; Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 8, 2005; Rebecca Clarren, “Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists,” Ms. Magazine, Spring 2006; Phil Kaplan, “Neo-Colonialism & Contract Labor Under the US Flag,” Washington Free Press, August/September 1997).

[6] Alicia Mundy, “Pasco Congressman in Rare Spotlight,” Seattle Times, June 10, 2005; Michael Hedges and Samantha Levine, “Ethics panel chair linked to lobby firm – Rep. Hastings had contact with office of Abramoff now part of probe into DeLay trips,” Houston Chronicle, June 9, 2005; Rebecca Clarren, “Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists,” Ms. Magazine, Spring 2006.

[7] Karen M. Smith, “Solving Worker Abuse Problems in the Northern Mariana Islands,” Boston College International and Comparative Law Review (2001).

[8] Rebecca Clarren, “Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists,” Ms. Magazine, Spring 2006.

[9] Rebecca Clarren, “Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists,” Ms. Magazine, Spring 2006.

[10] Rebecca Clarren, “Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists,” Ms. Magazine, Spring 2006.

[11] Rebecca Clarren, “Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists,” Ms. Magazine, Spring 2006.

[12] Rebecca Clarren, “Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists,” Ms. Magazine, Spring 2006.

[13] Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 8, 2005; Rebecca Clarren, “Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists,” Ms. Magazine, Spring 2006.

[14] Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 8, 2005.

[15] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14; Alicia Mundy, “Pasco Congressman in Rare Spotlight,” Seattle Times, June 10, 2005; Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 8, 2005; Sharon Theimer – Associated Press, “Lawmaker in DeLay inquiry tied to lobbyist, June 8, 2005.

[16] Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 8, 2005.

[17] Alicia Mundy, “Pasco Congressman in Rare Spotlight,” Seattle Times, June 10, 2005; Michael Hedges and Samantha Levine, “Ethics panel chair linked to lobby firm – Rep. Hastings had contact with office of Abramoff now part of probe into DeLay trips,” Houston Chronicle, June 9, 2005; Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 08, 2005.

[18] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14; Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 8, 2005.

[19] 1996 Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) – Preston Gates Ellis Invoices.

[20] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14.

[21] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14.

[22] Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 8, 2005; Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14

[23] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14; Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 08, 2005.

[24] Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 8, 2005; Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14.

[25] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14; Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 08, 2005.

[26] Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 8, 2005; Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14.

[27] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14.

[28] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14.

[29] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14; Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 8, 2005.

[30] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14.

[31] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14.

[32] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14.

[33] Alicia Mundy, “Pasco Congressman in Rare Spotlight,” Seattle Times, June 10, 2005; Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 8, 2005.

[34] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14.

[35] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14.

[36] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14; Michael Hedges and Samantha Levine, “Ethics panel chair linked to lobby firm – Rep. Hastings had contact with office of Abramoff now part of probe into DeLay trips,” Houston Chronicle, June 9, 2005; Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 8, 2005. .

[37] Michael Hedges and Samantha Levine, “Ethics panel chair linked to lobby firm – Rep. Hastings had contact with office of Abramoff now part of probe into DeLay trips,” Houston Chronicle, June 9, 2005.

[38] Michael Hedges and Samantha Levine, “Ethics panel chair linked to lobby firm – Rep. Hastings had contact with office of Abramoff now part of probe into DeLay trips,” Houston Chronicle, June 9, 2005.

[39] Tri-City Herald, June 24, 2005.

[40] Philip Shenon, “House Ethics Chief Is Tied to Lobby Figures,” New York Times, June 8, 2005, Page A14; Alicia Mundy, “Pasco Congressman in Rare Spotlight,” Seattle Times, June 10, 2005.

[41] Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 08, 2005.

[42] Associated Press, “Ethics Panel Chief Also Tied to Abramoff,” Wednesday, June 08, 2005.

[43] Michael Hedges and Samantha Levine, “Ethics panel chair linked to lobby firm – Rep. Hastings had contact with office of Abramoff now part of probe into DeLay trips,” Houston Chronicle, June 9, 2005.

[44] See also International Federation for Human Rights, Annual Report 1999, found at http://www.ihf-hr.org/viewbinary/viewdocument.php?doc_id=6047.

[45] Rebecca Clarren, “Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists,” Ms. Magazine, Spring 2006.

[46] Rebecca Clarren, “Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists,” Ms. Magazine, Spring 2006.

[47] Rebecca Clarren, “Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists,” Ms. Magazine, Spring 2006.

[48] Excerpts from this ABC News 20/20 segment can be found at http://www.democracynow.org/2006/1/4/forced_abortions_sweatshops_a_look_at.

[49] “Former Lobbyist Jack Abramoff Pleads Guilty to Charges Involving Corruption, Fraud Conspiracy, and Tax Evasion,” United States Department of Justice News Release, January 3, 2006; Susan Schmidt and James V. Grimaldi, “Abramoff Pleads Guilty to 3 Counts: Lobbyist to Testify About Lawmakers In Corruption Probe,” Washington Post, January 4, 2006, page A0.

[50] Abby Goodnough and Anne E. Kornblut, “Lobbyist Pleads Guilty in Fla.; 2nd Plea in 2 Days,” New York Times, January 4, 2006.

[51] David Dishneau and Matt Apuzzo, “Jack Abramoff Reports to Maryland Prison,” Associated Press, November 15, 2006.

[52] Citizens for Responsiblity and Ethics in Washington, “Meet Ed Cassidy, Boehner’s adviser on ethics, who called the U.S. Attorney in Seattle about a pending investigation,” http://citizensforethics.org/taxonomy/term/892.

[53] http://www.coloradorighttolife.org/republican-candidate-bob-schaffer-twilight-zone; http://thinkprogress.org/2008/04/21/colorado-right-to-life-blasts-schaffer-for-supporting-abromoff-client-mariana-islands/.

[54] Chris Mulick, “McCloskey Talks Ethics on Fearing’s Behalf,” Tri-City Herald, August 21, 2008.

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~ by wa4thcddems on February 5, 2010.

2 Responses to “My Congressman, Indentured Servitude, Forced Abortions, and Jack Abramoff”

  1. […] My Congressman, Indentured Servitude, Forced Abortion, and Jack Abramoff […]

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