A Georgia congressman omitted a trip paid for by a client of fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff from travel disclosure forms, even though he declared it on his personal income filings, RAW STORY has found.
The congressman -- Rep. John Linder (R-GA) -- took a five-day trip to Puerto Rico with his wife in August 1998. The trip was paid for by Future of Puerto Rico, Inc., a nebulous lobbying group that sought to advance Puerto Rican statehood and other island causes. The group was a client of Jack Abramoff, the former conservative superlobbyist who pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials in January.
Linder, the longest-serving Republican in the Georgia House delegation, was first elected in 1992. He sits on several powerful committees -- including Ways and Means and Homeland Security -- and was chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee from 1996-1998.
Shortly after trips taken by former Majority Leader Tom DeLay began to attract attention in the media last March, the Associated Press reported that 43 House members scrambled to publicly report their own trips paid for by special interests. Linder belatedly filed for nine trips, but the Puerto Rican trip remained markedly absent.
Linder should have filed a travel form shortly after his trip and could have corrected it when when he belatedly filed for other trips last year. Failing to properly report sponsored travel is a violation of House rules.
Linder’s office did not return repeated calls for comment.
Abramoff directly lobbied for Future of Puerto Rico from January 1998 to the year’s end in 2000, earning $620,000 for his then-firm, Preston Gates.
Abramoff’s team lobbied Congress to pass a bill which would have allowed Puerto Ricans to vote on whether they wanted to become a U.S. state. The prospective plebiscite fueled tension among Republicans, many of whom saw Puerto Rico as fertile field for Democratic politicians. With the help of Abramoff and former Christian Coalition chief Ralph Reed, the bill miraculously passed in the House by a single vote --to everyone’s surprise.
Linder did not support the bill. As chairman of a Republican Conference study committee, he helped delay its consideration by the full House and let opposition to the measure ferment. Eventually, however, he acceded to demands that it reach the House floor.
"Hey, it's come through the system," Linder said. "It's what you have to do."
On Mar. 4, 1998, the House passed the U.S-Puerto Rico Political Status Act. The Georgia Republican voted nay.
That August, Linder flew to Puerto Rico with his wife on behalf of Future of Puerto Rico, Inc. The group recently attracted attention for a trip taken by a staffer to Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), who claimed that Future of Puerto Rico had paid for a trip that had actually been paid for by Abramoff’s firm.
Little is known about the group. It was advanced by wealthy Puerto Rican interests, and appears to be connected with another political action committee connected to affluent island donors. That group, Newstar PAC, gave hefty $5,000 donations to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Rep. Doolittle, both fingered in the Abramoff probe.
Linder did not receive a contribution from Newstar. But following his trip to Puerto Rico, he supported all island measures Abramoff was lobbying on that came to a House vote.
Linder vote yes on the Work Improvement Act of 1999, the Financial Freedom Act of 1999, the Defense Department Appropriations Act of 2001 and the Community Renewal & New Markets Act of 2000. Abramoff registered to lobby on all the measures according to forms filed with the Senate by Future of Puerto Rico, Inc.
The Puerto Rican plebiscite bill never reached the Senate floor.
Linder received no donations from Abramoff and says they have never met. He did, however, collect $2,000 from one of Abramoff’s tribal clients. Following Abramoff’s guilty plea, he declined to return the money or donate it to charity, explaining that it had already been spent.