Bill That Might Have Helped Catch Stanford Died In Senate Finance Committee

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It’s clear by this point that Allen Stanford put a lot of energy into wooing members of Congress. He was a prodigious political giver over the last decade, and even seems to have paid for some lucky lawmakers to soak up the sun in Antigua.

But few people, we’re guessing, would choose to hang out with John Sweeney, Katherine Harris and co. just for fun. So what did Stanford want in return?

Over at TPMDC, Elana provided part of the answer in two posts that explain how Stanford’s firm helped fight an effort to crack down on international money laundering during the late Clinton years, as well as how, shortly after, he met with Martin Frost, at the time the chair of the House Democratic caucus (and to whose political groups Stanford was contributing soft money), in a bid to convince Frost to oppose anti-money laundering initiatives.

But that was hardly the last congressional effort to deal with the problems of offshore business operations. In February 2007, Sen. Carl Levin, joined by then-senators Norm Coleman and Barack Obama, introduced the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which would have closed offshore tax loopholes and forced companies to disclose far more information about their operations.

The bill listed 34 jurisdictions as probable locations for U.S. tax evasion — one of which was Antigua and Barbuda, the Caribbean island nation where Stanford’s sprawling financial empire was headquartered.

Although the measure was not primarily intended to root out large-scale frauds like the one Stanford is now accused of orchestrating, it likely would nonetheless have done so, as a “nice side benefit”, according to Robert McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice, simply because it would have given US authorities access to far more information about offshore businesses.

What happened to the bill? Levin’s office told us it came under the jurisdiction of the Senate Finance committee, which appears never to have brought it to a vote.

Since 2000, Finance chair Max Baucus has received $1000 from Stanford’s firm, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And Chuck Schumer has taken $17,000, more than all but sitting five members of Congress*.

During 2007, Stanford paid $500,000 to Ben Barnes’ firm to lobby the Senate on a range of issues, including “lobbying issues related to banking” according to Senate lobbying disclosure records.

It’s worth clarifying: Stanford is hardly the only businessman who’d potentially have had a lot to lose from efforts to crack down on offshore tax loopholes. Numerous Fortune 500 companies have offshore operations that could help them avoid paying US taxes, a recent GAO report found. And “fair tax” advocates tell TPMmuckraker that a broad range range of corporate interests has, over the last decade, been involved in preserving such loopholes. So even if Stanford’s influence with lawmakers was a factor here, it’s not as if he would have been working alone.

A spokesman for the Senate Finance committee pledged to provide TPMmuckraker with more information about the circumstances under which Levin’s bill died. We’ll update with anything else we learn.

* This sentence has been edited from an earlier version which referred to the contributions from Stanford received by Bill Nelson, a current finance committee member. Nelson did not join the committee until January of this year — after the period in question.

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