Norquist, Traditional Values Coalition also lent support to Marianas measures
The Washington nonprofit whose president appeared before a Senate committee as a victim of fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s congressional bribery net wrote repeated articles that aligned with the positions of the lobbyist’s clients, suggesting possible coordination between the lobbyist and the group in violation of federal law.
In a series of editorials between 1999 and 2001, National Center for Public Policy Research president Amy Ridenour went to bat for the Commonwealth of the Marianas Islands, a small U.S. territory in the Pacific. Her releases bemoaned efforts to expand federal immigration laws to the island, defended the islands' meager wages and attacked Clinton Administration attempts to tighten labor laws.
Ridenour also lent her support to the Western Pacific Economic Council, a trade group composed of Marianas garment manufacturers. Her group’s name appeared in a Saipan newspaper backing the Council in 1999.
Both the Marianas and the Economic Council were clients of Jack Abramoff at the time. The Marianas paid Abramoff’s firm Preston Gates $2.9 million in 1999 and 2000 and his second firm, Greenberg Traurig, $2.1 million in 2001. The Western Pacific Economic Council paid Preston Gates $2.3 million in 1999 and 2000.
Ridenour did not return calls and emails asking for comment. Andrew Blum, a spokesman for Abramoff, also declined to comment. Abramoff pled guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials in January.
The National Center took to the national stage when it emerged that Abramoff – who was a member of the nonprofit’s board from 1997 to 2004 – had laundered $2.5 million through the group to increase personal holdings and pay for congressional trips. The money underwrote overseas trips taken by House Administration Committee Chairman Robert Ney (R-OH) and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).
In her testimony before Congress, Ridenour portrayed herself as a victim of Abramoff’s guile. Describing her impression of when she first met the lobbyist, Ridenour said he appeared a “dedicated conservative” whose “managerial skills, it seemed to me at the time, exceeded my own.”
When discussing how the Center had received millions of dollars from Abramoff’s firm and his lobbying clients, she described the lobbyist’s proposals as “quote a new kind of lobbying unquote.”
She did not, however, discuss work she had done that benefited Abramoff’s clients.
While RAW STORY previously revealed that Ridenour had written an article attacking the political rival of another Abramoff client – former Malaysian Prime Minister Mathahir bin Mohamed – her work on issues surrounding the Marianas was far more extensive.
Ridenour’s lobbying on the Marianas began in April 1999, when her group issued a release decrying bipartisan efforts to ban goods manufactured on the islands from carrying the “Made in the USA” label. Legislators proposed the measure after numerous labor complaints were filed against Saipan manufacturers, who were repeatedly accused of flouting labor laws.
“The National Center for Public Policy Research believes that any concerns about employment conditions in the CNMI should be handled as they are on the mainland: by U.S. and local government inspectors who have the authority to enforce government employment regulations,” the group’s release said. “These inspectors are on the job in the CNMI.”
The following day, The Saipan Tribune, the Commonwealth’s leading newspaper, reprinted the release in full.
Three other nonprofits lent name to Marianas effort
Several months later, the National Center’s name appeared in another Saipan Tribune article. This time, Ridenour’s group was supporting a coalition of Marianas garment manufacturers who bemoaned U.S. efforts to impose tighter labor laws.
Ron Sablan, chairman of the Western Pacific Economic Council trade group, lauded Ridenour’s group. RAW STORY has discovered that Sablan also praised three other nonprofits, two of which would later work with Abramoff on Indian gaming issues.
"Fortunately with the help of our public affairs firm others have joined to argue against this intrusion into our economic sustenance. The Americans for Tax Reform, the Council with Citizens Against Government Waste, the Traditional Values Coalition, and the National Center for Public Policy Research supported the WPEC's stance,” Sablan said.
Americans for Tax Reform, led by conservative maven Grover Norquist, is already under scrutiny in the Abramoff scandal, and the new revelation that they abetted a Marianas concern may further raise questions about their relationship with Abramoff. ATR got $25,000 at Abramoff's direction from an Indian tribe to set up a meeting with Bush. The Traditional Values Coalition, meanwhile, was paid $25,000 at Abramoff's instruction to lobby on Indian gaming in 2000.
In August 1999, Ridenour attacked the Clinton Administration’s Interior Department for using federal resources to aid Democratic efforts to impose federal labor standards on the islands. The islands are a haven for sweatshops, as they enjoy the privileges of a U.S. territory but do not have to follow laws enforced on U.S. states.
Ironically, Abramoff would use Bush Administration Interior Department officials just a few years later to thwart measures that would jeopardize the well-being of his Indian tribal clients.
Abramoff took a hiatus from representing the Marianas for much of 2000. RAW STORY can find no articles from the Center on the islands during that time.
The lobbying heavyweight re-signed the Marianas with his new firm, Greenberg Traurig, in March 2001. In April, the center issued a release blasting a bill from a Republican senator which aimed to federalize immigration laws in the islands.
“Legislation providing for a federal takeover of the immigration authority of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI), a U.S. possession near Guam, is designed to shut down the Islands' garment industry and should be understood as such, says The National Center for Public Policy Research,” the group said in a release.
The release appeared again in the National Center’s newsletter, “The Relief Report.” It was credited to Amy Ridenour.
Group has a history of pay for play allegations
In 2001, Ridenour penned an editorial in the Washington Times which attacked the rival of Abramoff’s then-client, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamed. Abramoff was paid $2.2 million to arrange a meeting between the Prime Minister and President Bush.
Her article, titled "The U.S. Must Tread Carefully to Avoid Creating More Fundamentalist Islamic Governments," touted Malaysia as a "prosperous, stable and democratic state" and smeared Mahathir opponent Anwar Ibrahim as an Islamic radical.
Ridenour described Ibrahim as “a former government official with close links to radical Islamic fundamentalist groups has begun an international public relations effort to destabilize the government in Kuala Lumpur.”
Lim Kit Siang, a member of the Malaysian parliament, all but accused Ridenour of being paid to write the article in 2001.
Malaysians, he said, were entitled to know whether Ridenour and NCPPR "have been hired in a campaign to win the hearts of Washington, whether taxpayers' monies are involved in the retention of American lobby groups to provide ‘sweeteners’ to pave the way for a meeting between the Prime Minister and President Bush, and whether the KMM and the militant Islam issues are being used to win the ear of Washington.”
Ridenour denied being paid by the Malaysian government.
NCPPR also came under fire for “Envirotruth,” a website which attacks progressive and environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. Exxon Mobil ponied up $55,000 to the group that year.
Ridenour was also attacked in 1995 when a memo by Phillip Morris executive Frank Gomez surfaced during national tobacco litigation, in which she offered Gomez "to use any information [he could] provide re [sic] the current anti-tobacco onslaught."