Through Obscure Non-Profit, Stanford Wooed Lawmakers

By now, we’ve all seen those pictures of Allen Stanford hobnobbing with lawmakers in Antigua. But, with the exception of one trip by Sen. John Cornyn, it wasn’t Stanford himself who picked up the tab for these jaunts — it was an obscure outfit called the Inter-American Economic Council.

And taking a closer look at the IAEC, and its ties to Stanford, sheds some light on how the Texas billionaire gained access to all those members of Congress — and what he hoped to gain by doing so.

The IAEC’s website says that the Washington-based group was founded in 1999 and that it aims to “provide senior Government Officials, leading Business Executives, and Academic Professionals the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about current and future economic strategies in the Hemisphere.” And in 2003, the Associated Press reported (via Nexis) that, according to IAEC president Barry Featherman, the organization “relies mostly on contributions from U.S. corporations.”

But the group appears to have remarkably close ties to Stanford himself. In this 2006 report, Bloomberg described Stanford as a “principal backer” of the organization. And Stanford Financial told Bloomberg that it had “donated the use of its aircraft” to the IAEC for one 2006 trip to Jamaica that four Democratic lawmakers went on.

That same year, the IAEC gave Stanford its “Excellence in Leadership” award. A press release put out by the group (since removed from its website) declared that Stanford “has strongly supported the work that the IAEC is doing in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Stanford also appears to have taken advantage of IAEC-funded events by showing up personally to schmooze lawmakers. We already posted these shots of current or former lawmakers including Katherine Harris, Pete Sessions, Tom Feeney, James Clyburn, and John Sweeney chilling with Stanford and Caribbean dignitaries in Antigua in 2005.

But there’s also another set of interesting shots from the previous year, showing Stanford breaking bread with, and addressing, lawmakers — including former GOP congressman Bob Ney (since jailed for taking bribes from Jack Abramoff) — at an IAEC-sponsored event in Washington.

(You can see the slideshow of photographs from that event here.)

What was Stanford talking to lawmakers about? An IAEC press release from (via Nexis) from the event gives a hint. It says that in his speech, Stanford “addressed the need to streamline regulatory regimes that make it difficult for investors to take advantage of all of the opportunities that exist in the region.”

And that same year, Newsday reported (via Nexis) on an IAEC-sponsored trip to Jamaica that included Democratic congressman Gregory Meeks. The IAEC, said the paper, hoped to “ease Patriot Act restrictions on offshore banking,” and that according to Meeks, “the trip was an effort by the Inter-American Economic Council to explain the hardships the act has imposed on Caribbean banks.”

In other words, Stanford and the IAEC used these events to try to convince lawmakers not to crack down on tax loopholes that work to benefit offshore banking — exactly the loopholes that allowed Stanford to operate his alleged multi-billion-dollar scam, free from regulatory scrutiny, for so long .

In fact, the IAEC even seems to have used its clout to create a new congressional caucus — the Caribbean Caucus — made up of may of the lawmakers who went on the IAEC-backed trips.

After one such trip in 2003, attended by then-Rep. Phil Crane (R-IL), among others, Featherman, the IAEC president, revealed that “Congress is expected to form an informal, bipartisan Caribbean caucus to focus on issues of interest to the region,” according to the AP (via Nexis).

The Caribbean Caucus would at various times include, among others, Ney, Meeks, Sweeney, Sessions, Feeney, Charlie Rangel, Mel Watt, Donald Payne, Phil English, Steve Chabot, Donna Christensen, Diane Watson, and Al Wynn, all of whom went to events on IAEC’s dime.

Indeed, Stanford seems to have had some sway not only over the IAEC, but over the membership of the Caribbean Caucus itself. That Bloomberg story from 2006 reports that it was Stanford himself who asked Sessions to become a member of the caucus. Sessions seems to have agreed.

The IAEC is staying mum about its relationship to Stanford — it hasn’t returned either of TPMmuckraker’s calls over the last few days. And the office of Rep. Payne, who was at one time listed as a co-chair, along with Ney, of the Caribbean Caucus, declined to make anyone available to answer TPMmuckraker’s questions.

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