Curious Career of McCain Fundraiser
Last week, Talking Points Memo reported that one of John McCain’s top fundraisers, Juan Carlos Benitez, has direct ties to Jack Abramoff, and now works with Cassidy & Associates, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm. McCain’s campaign listed Benitez as having raised between $50,000 to $100,000.
According to the lobbying forms filed with the Senate Office of Public Records Benitez is currently registered to lobby for the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization and lobbied on the Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2009 pushing for additional funding for Iraq. In 2008 he is also registered to lobby on behalf of Univision Communications and the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust.
In earlier years he has lobbied for Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Wal-Mart, among others.
And as of May of 2007, one of his responsibilities at Cassidy was handling the firm’s account with Equatorial Guinea, a small yet oil-rich African nation, according to Mother Jones. Last month, Peter Maass writing at Slate.com, named Equatorial Guinea’s president, Teodoro Obiang, Africa’s worst dictator. Ken Silverstein, writing in the June 2007 edition of Harper’s Magazine, interviewed Cassidy staffers who bragged to him that through an aggressive media strategy and by organizing trips to the country for congressional staffers, they were able to knock Obiang out of Parade Magazine‘s annual Who Is the World’s Worst Dictator? top ten listing. Before Cassidy’s campaign the strongman ranked sixth. The 2008 list has him at 13.
According to TPM, in 2001, Abramoff helped Benitez get a gig at the Department of Justice as the Special Council for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, whose job it was to monitor and prosecute sweatshops among other things. Why would Abramoff want his friend in such a position? The local government of the Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory in the Pacific, was paying Abramoff millions of dollars to protect their sweatshop racket. Mariana Island interests paid Abramoff $600,000 in 2002. DOJ took no action against the sweatshops that year, TPM reports
In June 2003, Benitez joined Cassidy & Associates as a senior vice president. The firm’s press release announcing Benitez’s hire stated that he will assist the U.S. territories in maneuvering through the regulatory maze existing in Washington. Benitez had another direct connection to U.S. territories in the Pacific, his Guam-born wife Ramona Jones. In February 2003, the U.S. Department of the Interior appointed Jones as the Special Advisor for Economic Policy for the Insular Areas, where she was specifically tasked with finding ways to improve the economic conditions in Guam, the Marianas and other U.S. territories.
Soon after Jones was named to her post at DOI, the Government of Guam (specifically the board of the Guam Economic Development and Commerce Authority) hired a lobbying firm owned by Benitez, the Washington Pacific Economic Development Group, for two months paying them $375,000 representing them in Washington, according to Guam-based KUAM News. The report also revealed that Benitez’s firm wasn’t incorporated until the day it signed the contract with the government.