CASH STRAPPED CNMI CONTRACTS D.C. LOBBYING FIRM

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By Gemma Q. Cassas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 5) – Despite the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ cash-strapped condition, the administration has entered into a sole-source six-month US$90,000 contract with the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm Oldaker, Biden & Belair, LLP which has ties with another lobby firm, the National Group, LLP.

The lobbyists’ main job is to block the extension of federal minimum wage and immigration laws to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

Rep. Stanley T. Torres, Ind.-Saipan, who provided the media with a copy of the contract, expressed concern over the administration’s decision.

[PIR editor’s note: According to PIR news files, CNMI Washington, D.C. based Representative Pete Tenorio urged the Commonwealth to stop hiring lobbyists.]

"This latest lobbyist already has problems from the very beginning since one of its partners is supposedly the son of Sen. Joseph Biden, and this relationship restricts Biden in the Oldaker, Biden & Belair group from contacting Sen. Biden or any other U.S. senator or their staff members," Torres said in a statement.

"This restriction could cause problems for the other partners, too, and the CNMI could lose the support of other senators in the U.S. Congress and not maximize the effects of the lobbying group. These problems are compounded by an earlier (Variety) report that the Oldaker, Biden & Belair group is mostly involved in postsecondary school issues, and how does this help the CNMI in its minimum wage/immigration issues?" Torres asked.

The US$15,000 monthly retainer does not cover extra expenses that Oldaker, Biden & Belair, or Oldaker, Biden & Belair, may incur for the administration.

According to the two-page scope of work, the CNMI is obliged to "reimburse the firm for out-of-pocket expenses for travel and meals which will be mutually agreed to by the parties in advance when such expenses individually or collectively exceed US$500" with supporting receipts.

In addition, Oldaker, Biden & Belair is entitled to "standard overhead charges for all expenses such as telephone, faxing, duplicating, in the amount of 5 percent of total fees, payable monthly in advance."

Oldaker, Biden & Belair was contracted for the period Jan. 9 to July 9.

"The services of this consultant are needed to assist in our efforts to protect the commonwealth’s authority with respect to the minimum wage and immigration," said Attorney General Matthew Gregory in a memorandum dated Jan. 12, 2007 to Herman Sablan, director of procurement and supply.

"The services of this consultant will be used to: develop a plan to clarify the position of the commonwealth to members of the United States Congress, prepare briefing documents, and coordinate congressional meetings. These coordination and preparation services will act to direct and support the efforts of the commonwealth in these critical times," he added.

Gregory, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and Finance Secretary Eloy S. Inos signed the contract with Oldaker, Biden & Belair in January.

One of the firm’s partners, R. Hunter Biden, is prohibited from lobbying Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., regarding CNMI issues.

The contract did not specify R. Hunter Biden’s relationship with the senator.

"R. Hunter Biden, a partner of Oldaker, Biden & Belair, will provide strategic advice to the commonwealth and will not lobby Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., any members of his personal or committee staff, nor any other U.S. senators or their staffs on issues related to client’s (CNMI) legislative objectives," a clause in the contract stated.

According to its Web site, Oldaker, Biden & Belair’s services include "legal, consulting and lobbying." Its affiliated firms include the National Group, LLP.

Marianas Variety

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