Devastating Schaffer/Abramoff/Marianas ExposГ©

Then-Rep. Bob Schaffer parasails off the Northern Mariana Islands, 1999.

Photo credit: CSU Library

We told you this was coming. As the Denver Post reports:

Just before boarding a plane to the Mariana Islands in 1999, then-Congressman Bob Schaffer announced he was embarking on a fact-finding mission to get to the bottom of repeated allegations of labor abuse in the American protectorate.

“I plan to walk right into those factories and living quarters to see for myself what conditions exist,” Schaffer said in a news release in August of that year.

What he didn’t say was that the trip was partly arranged by the firm of now-jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who represented textile factory owners fighting congressional efforts to reform labor and immigration laws on the islands and who was being handsomely paid to keep the islands’ cherished exemptions…

“At its base it is a union fight that has been taking place there,” Schaffer said in a recent interview about what he found on the islands. “I insisted that it be a real investigation, which it was,” he said, noting that he visited more than 20 factories and found serious problems in only one. [Pols emphasis]

Nine years later, the trip has become a campaign issue: It has left Schaffer defending a guest-worker program criticized in more than a decade of government reports and journalistic exposés; and it links him to what Abramoff later boasted was an incredibly successful lobbying effort to quash reform by cashing in on ties to key House Republicans, including those on the House Resources Committee, on which Schaffer sat…

As the uncomfortable questions were hammered home by Post reporter Michael Riley, Schaffer campaign manager Dick Wadhams notably failed to help his client.

Schaffer spokesman Dick Wadhams said Democrats are trying to score political points out of a tenuous connection.

Opponents “are trying to leave the impression that Bob went gallivanting off to the Mariana Islands with Jack Abramoff, who Bob has never met, never talked to and wasn’t even aware was around back then,” Wadhams said.

“Preston-Gates was just another law firm at that time, like hundreds of others,” Wadhams said. “You have to put this in context of what was going on then.” [Pols emphasis]

A class-action lawsuit filed the year Schaffer toured the islands alleged that many of those workers lived in slum conditions, housed seven to a room in barracks surrounded by barbed wire designed to keep the workers in. Workers in some factories labored 12 hours a day, seven days a week, the suit alleged – without pay if they fell behind set quotas.

A U.S. Interior Department investigation found that pregnant workers were forced to get illegal abortions or lose their jobs. Some were recruited for factories but forced into the sex trade instead.

The islands’ factories were cited by the U.S. Department of Labor more than 1,000 times for safety violations in the late 1990s.

“There were some examples of problems that we found, and we raised those with the equivalent of the attorney general,” Schaffer said of his visit. But in many others, “the workers were smiling; they were happy.” [Pols emphasis]

You have to “put this in context” with what was “going on then,” Wadhams says? What was going on then, as numerous investigations have proven, was a massive effort to derail labor rights and immigration reforms in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands–directed by Jack Abramoff, and by all reasonable analysis of this latest story, willingly abetted by then-Rep. Bob Schaffer. This story places Schaffer at the center of one of the biggest political scandals in Washington since…well, in a really long time. It’s absolutely devastating to his “ethically clean” image. We’re still incredulous that Schaffer brought this scrutiny on himself by praising the CNMI’s immigration policies in an otherwise completely benign story, and now the wolves are circling.

We hear this story is provoking great interest nationally, and that many more corroborating facts remain to be disclosed (hint: avalanche of dubious donors with ties to the CNMI and Abramoff)–but they are coming, and Schaffer is going to have a huge problem refuting them all. A poll follows.

Could the Abramoff/CNMI scandal sink Schaffer's Senate bid?

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51 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Arvadonian says:

    he did some in depth investigation into the working conditions in the parasailing industry also.

  2. We already know Schaffer received a large campaign contribution from CNMI officials.

    The fact that the Post has already uncovered Schaffer’s (and his staff’s) knowledge about the true source of the trip funding – which should have been at least marginally suspicious since it wasn’t the publicly stated source of the funding – is damning and indicative of further pain to come.

    Wadhams’s weak rebuttal at the end didn’t help.

  3. Danny the Red (hair) says:

    He just had Abramoff pay for a vacation on a south sea tropical island while saying he was on a fact finding tour.

    There is nothing wrong with taking money from companies forcing abortions, denying the right to worship, keeping workers in virtual slavery, using foriegn slave labor to do jobs  that used to be done by workers in north carolina all while promoting chinese soveriegnty on us soil.  In fact it sould be a model for all america according to Bob.

    (Snark of course)  That picture is criminal.

  4. twas brillig says:

    I can’t wait to see where Sweatshop’s “values” dodge goes. The Traditional Values Coalition is run by one of the craziest loons in the Bible Shakedown business. Having to use them as a shield is bad news. Abramoff, Grover Norquist, and all those Bible thumpers were in the same boat.

  5. DavidThi808 says:

    Regardless of what he should have known then (and he almost certainly did know), the whole corrupt thing has been public so long no one will buy the argument that he didn’t know.

    And equally bad, his defense is he was totally incompetent at “investigating” the situation. Couple that with the parasailing picture and no one will believe he did any investigating.

    This will continue to be death by a thousand cuts from now till November.

    • Half Glass Full says:

      I love that picture of him at a factory with his wife and a clipboard. I’m sure he got an unvarnished, brutally candid tour of the factories – a tour that was arranged BY THE LOBBYIST FOR THE FACTORY OWNERS.

      What’s astounding is that even with such a cherry-picked tour, he STILL found “serious problems” at one of the 20 factories he toured.

      And hey, all the workers were “happy and smiling,” so everything must have been OK, right? Arbeit Macht Frei!

      Geez, any way you cut it, Schaffer comes across as incredibly gullible at best, if not corrupt. I feel sorry for Dick Wadhams.

  6. chris82 says:

    What’s that site that ranks Congressional races by their likeliness to change parties? I can’t wait to see where this Senate seat ends up on the list after this.

  7. twas brillig says:

    Remember Ralph Reed? He got his ass handed to him when running for LTG of Georgia. His association to Jack Abramoff and the forced abortions at CNMI were a big reason that the traditional GOP religious base rejected him.

    A blogger at the time put it pretty well: Forced abortions are bad for the GOP.

    With a Republican nominee the right wing radio base openly suspects is a Democrat, and with a Senate nominee who sold out traditional values for power, it’s going to be very hard to motivate faith-based voters to participate in November.

  8. CJ says:

    Just for fun, when the first Denver Post article came out with Shaffer approvingly citing to the Marianas Islands example, I sent Riley an e-mail wondering if “some intrepid reporter” might actually confront Shaffer about the actual conditions in the Marianas; or if, instead, they would just let it slide.

    I think my e-mail must have been about #5,000 asking that question.  Riley was no doubt already on this.  

    Maybe our investigative media are not quite dead, after all?

  9. Danny the Red (hair) says:

    the visual added to the facts in the marianas and the appearance of influence peddling–he’s done.

  10. Danny the Red (hair) says:

    A U.S. Interior Department investigation found that pregnant workers were forced to get illegal abortions or lose their jobs. Some were recruited for factories but forced into the sex trade instead.

    And Bob thinks the “fuss” is whipped up by Big Labor?  Even if that was true, does anyone have a problem with labor pointing out that forced labor and sex slavery is bad?

    Bob’s response

    “There were some examples of problems that we found, and we raised those with the equivalent of the attorney general,” Schaffer said of his visit. But in many others, “the workers were smiling; they were happy.”

    It reminds me of folks who described Slaves as happy children in the antebellum south.  

    I used to just have policy differences with Shafer–now I think he is a vile human being.

  11. Danny the Red (hair) says:

    If its Ok for Tom to take payoffs from Abramoff it ok for Bob.

    A Washington lobbyist under federal investigation for his lobbying activities arranged a lavish overseas trip to the island of Saipan for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, over the New Year’s holiday in 1997.

    House Majority Leader Tom DeLay under fire for accepting free overseas trips. DeLay, his wife and daughter, and several aides, stayed for free at a beachfront resort.

    The DeLay trip to the South Pacific island, originally reported by a “20/20” investigation, was part of an effort by former aide Jack Abramoff to stop legislation aimed at cracking down on sweatshops and sex shops in the American territory, which is known as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

    And you don’t think its influence peddling?  Abramoff did.

    Abramoff, who was working for the law firm Preston Gates Ellis and Rouvelas Meeds LLP at the time, was paid $1.36 million by Saipan officials and wrote in a memo obtained by ABC News that such congressional trips were “one of the most effective ways to build permanent friends on the Hill.”

  12. Half Glass Full says:

    10. Junket.

    9. Amnesty.

    8. Sex slavery.

    7. Corruption.

    6. Prostitution.

    5. Guest-worker program.

    4. Slave labor.

    3. Jack Abramoff.

    2. Denial of freedom of religion.

    1. Forced abortions.

    • windbourne says:

      that you are missing deficits and treason. I am hopeful that the dems will start pointing how the pubs ran up this deficit as well as gagged a patriot (sibel edmunds) as well gave the bomb to turkey and Pakistan (Pakistan did not figure it out, it was sold to them by the pubs).

      It is time to hold all politicians accountable for their actions.

      • Aristotle says:

        Pakistan did not figure [the bomb] out, it was sold to them by the pubs

        All the science that a well funded and inquisitive team of physicists need to develop atomic bombs was already public in 1939. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try to find out the science that’s been kept secret the easy way (like the Soviets and their espionage of the American program).

        So, what’s this about the ‘pubs selling secrets to the Pakistanis? I’ve never heard that.

  13. RedGreen says:

    Perhaps he and his lovely wife watched Pretty Woman to research allegations of forced work in the sex industry.

    “But that Julia Roberts, she was happy, she was smiling!”

  14. Roger D says:

    Bob is anti-choice, not necessarily anti-abortion.

    Forced abortions are okay, its just a woman’s  ‘right to choose’ that he is opposed to.

  15. RedGreen says:

    Talking Points Memo takes on Smiling Bob in today’s edition of its web TV show. Click through for the link to the video.

    As we’ve been reporting, Colorado senate candidate Bob Schaffer (R) says we should remodel our national immigration policy on that of the Mariana Islands — a program notorious for child prostitution, forced abortions, beatings, slavery, twelve hour days and sex trafficking. Now it turns out he went on a Jack Abramoff junket to the islands and came back saying it was A-OK! We look at the latest in today’s episode of TPMtv …

  16. At the top of the list was $2000 from Benigno Fital, Governor of the CNMI.  Another $2000 from Jerry Tan (the Tans are one of the prime business families in Saipan, some are Chinese nationals, and they’re by all accounts corrupt as all get out…)…

  17. Kevin Jones says:

    Could a strong, vigorous denunciation from Schaffer attacking Abramoff and the abuses in the Marianas kill this issue?  

    • Aristotle says:

      It depends on what documentation Bob’s opposition (527’s as well as Udall) can dig up and use, along with their willingness to use it. This picture is pretty strong, coupled with the facts laid out in the Post article. Denouncing Abramoff may backfire if it can shown that Bob was in with him.

    • Half Glass Full says:

      There’s no way he comes out of this in better shape than he was before. But it’s amazing how little damage control Schabramoffer and Wadhams seem to be attempting. Meanwhile, the story continues to build and build…

      The time for Schaffer to make a personal “vigorous denunciation” was when the Denver Post first called looking for comment. Instead there were a few incredibly pathetic and weak quotes from Wadhams along the lines of “Well, everyone else was doing it too.”

  18. RavenDawg says:

       We are a long way out but this story has potential to significantly impact the conflicting pro- versus anti-union Consitutional initiatives that are making their way towards the ballot.  Tying Schaffer’s sweatshop scandal to the anti-union ballot measure could put the business proposal into a pretty bad light.

      Immediate and forceful damage control would seem to be indicated.

    • twas brillig says:

      If Schaffer limps to November and self-described “values voters” stay home, the CO GOP is going to have mad struggles all up and down the ballot. With a perceived RINO presidential candidate and a DeLay/Abramoff cronyist  US Senate candidate, I would hate to be a Republican beneath them on the ballot.

      McCain will still pull lots of CO Independents who are still buying the snakeoil come November, but that won’t be much help to the state leg and county candidates down the ballot.  

  19. Go Blue says:

    Actually thinks this is “liberal propaganda” and yay to forced abortions? All four of you are as extreme as Sweatshop Schaffer.

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