The Minimum Wage, Pelosi, Tuna and American Samoa


Red State’s Erick asked the right kinds of questions when he heard that American Samoa, a U.S. possession, would continue to be exempt from the U.S. minimum wage (while the Northern Marianas islands, another possession, would be subject to them), but he didn’t know where to get the answers (and apparently ended up relying on some bogus information).

Erick suggests that the reason American Samoa got the special treatment was self-interest on the part of Speaker Pelosi and her husband:

Paul Pelosi owns a $17 million investment in H. J. Heinz’s company, which in turn owns ~75% of Del Monte Corp’s stock. Del Monte is the parent company of StarKist. StarKist Tuna owns one of the two packing plants on American Samoa. Combined both plants employ over 60% of the population paying less than $3.75 a hour in wages.

I think the source for this information was this post and, perhaps, this Wikipedia entry (it appears that, as of this writing, there’s no reference to Pelosi in the latter).

Members of Congress have to file personal financial disclosure forms listing both their own and their spouse’s assets; Pelosi’s disclosures going back ten years or so can all be found here (thanks to our friends at the Center for Responsive Politics for putting them online). You can also search a digital version of Pelosi’s disclosure here. Heinz doesn’t show up among the assets (nor do Starkist or Del Monte, for that matter).

So if Pelosi was instrumental in preserving low American Samoan wages (I’m still don’t know that this was anything she pushed for, although I’m more than willing to be persuaded if someone can show it), it wasn’t because her husband held $17 million in stock. I’m a big believer in following the money, but Erick–before you follow it you’ve got to find it, and a line in a Wikipedia article doesn’t measure up to a member’s personal financial disclosure form. But let’s see if we can’t find some money…

In the 109th Congess, 15 members owned Heinz stock; topping the list in terms of the value of their holdings were Sen. John Kerry (I presume this is his wife’s stock) with at least $3 million, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, who reported owning somewhere between $100,001 and $250,000. I doubt that Kerry had much effect on House legislation (why should his influence in the House be greater than it is in the Senate?); might it be worth looking into Maloney?

Here’s a list of candidates that HJ Heinz Company’s political action committee contributed to in 2006; neither Pelosi nor Maloney were favored with contributions, and it looks like a pretty bipartisan cast of lawmakers who got money (none more than $3,000–or 30 percent of the maximum $10,000 the PAC could have given each candidate).

I’d love to look at 2007 contributions, which would be far more relevant, but we won’t see the first campaign finance reports until after they’re filed with the Federal Election Commission on April 15, 2007. And, in that vein, it would also be nice to know who, if anyone, lobbied on the minimum wage bill for StarKist, Del Monte, HJ Heinz or the Government of American Samoa, and what specific members of Congress and staffers those lobbyists contacted. I vaguely recall proposals to do something about that…

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