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Bob Schaffer Under Abramoff Cloud

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The Denver Post reports that former Congressman Bob Schaffer who is hoping to best Rep. Mark Udall for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Wayne Allard, may have some explaining to do.

In 1999, then Rep. Schaffer flew to the Marianna Islands to investigate reports of sweat shops and human rights violations.

“I plan to walk right into those factories and living quarters to see for myself what conditions exist,” Schaffer said in a news release in August of that year.

Turns out, the trip was arranged in part by the firm of disgraced former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff:

[Abramoff’s firm]… represented textile factory owners fighting congressional efforts to reform labor and immigration laws on the islands and who was being handsomely paid to keep the islands’ cherished exemptions.

The $13,000 trip for Schaffer and his wife, which included a stay at a posh resort, was actually paid for by a California group named Traditional Values Coalition, which Schaffer described as a “religious group concerned with human rights.” The Post reports the group ” acted virtually as a political arm of Abramoff’s lobbying operation.”

Schaffer’s spokesman Dick Wadhams says that wasn’t known at the time. But the trips’s ties to Abramoff’s firm were known:

In an August 1999 memo, Schaffer was told that travel arrangements to the Mariana Islands had been made by Preston-Gates. Handwritten notes on the agenda point out that a lunch meeting was with several current or former clients of the firm, including the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association and the Western Pacific Economic Council.

Wadhams says Schaffer didn’t let Preston-Gates or meetings with their clients influence his findings. What were his findings?

In a recent interview with The Denver Post, the Republican candidate for Colorado’s open Senate seat described the protectorate’s guest-worker program as a “model” lawmakers could use as they overhaul the U.S. immigration system.

What was the reality?

The Northern Marianas economy is built on thousands of workers from China, the Philippines and Bangladesh, some of whom pay labor recruiters as much as $7,000 to land a job on U.S. soil. A class-action lawsuit filed the year Schaffer toured the islands alleged that many of those workers lived in slum conditions, housed seven to a room in barracks surrounded by barbed wire designed to keep the workers in. Workers in some factories labored 12 hours a day, seven days a week, the suit alleged — without pay if they fell behind set quotas.

A U.S. Interior Department investigation found that pregnant workers were forced to get illegal abortions or lose their jobs. Some were recruited for factories but forced into the sex trade instead. The islands’ factories were cited by the U.S. Department of Labor more than 1,000 times for safety violations in the late 1990s.

For more, check out Progress Now.

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