McCain’s Moneyraiser Worked For Mariana Islands

We told you yesterday about the ties between one of John McCain’s top fundraisers and convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Well, there’s more. Looks like Juan Carlos Benitez was helping Abramoff out with efforts to lobby for the Northern Mariana Islands.

Remember that storyline? The U.S. territory’s local government hired Abramoff (and Benitez as well, we’ve learned) to help fend of criticism of the massive sweatshop industry on the islands.

Those sweatshops were especially lucrative — and controversial — because they allowed big-name companies to use a “Made in the USA” tag,” even though they are filled with low-paid immigrants from across Asia.

Workers from China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, were working below the local minimum wage, often seven days a week and up to 12 hours a day while living in shacks behind barbed wire and without plumbing, according to congressional testimony.

Let’s look at the timeline — we know that back in 2001 Benitez landed his big job (pdf) over at the Department of Justice with the help of a recommendation from Abramoff.

Specifically, the job Abramoff steered him into at DOJ was Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices. That’s the office in charge of — guess what? — prosecuting sweatshop owners.

“This position gave Benitez authority over enforcing provisions of … alleged unfair employment practices, issues of importance to Abramoff clients such as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands,” according to a 2006 Congressional report (pdf).

In 2002, Abramoff’s firm took in $600,000 in lobbying fees from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Efforts to crackdown on the sweatshops there stalled.

Benitez left the DOJ in 2003 and went to work for Cassidy and Associates, a top Washington lobbying firm. Within months — by 2004 — Benitez had registered to lobby for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Also in 2004, Abramoff went to work for Cassidy and Associates. But he soon left, as his name began popping up in news reports about corruption investigations.

So where did Benitez and Abramoff meet?

We’re not sure, but it may have been in the late 1990s, when Abramoff was lobbying for a group called Future of Puerto Rico, Inc. which was pushing for a congressional vote on Puerto Rican statehood.

At the same time, Benitez was the legislative director for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Washington.

Yesterday McCain announced that Benitez has bundled between $50,000 and $100,000 for his campaign. Maybe that’s not massive money for today’s campaigns, but it’s interesting since McCain used to be talk so much about Abramoff and corrupt lobbyists. He doesn’t do that as much anymore.

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