Thursday, October 18, 2007

On the Political Front (Part 2)

By 2005, the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), an advocacy coalition opposed to the US embargo, had noticed the impact of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC (USCD PAC). In the House that June, "a five-year trend of support for easing the [Cuba] travel ban" was suddenly reversed when votes showed opposition to amendments aimed to reduce restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba. LAWG put the blame on campaign contributions by USCD PAC.

According to LAWG, USCD PAC "donated between $1,000 and $5,000 to 111 representatives in 2004. Of these members, 33 had consistently voted to lift restrictions on travel to Cuba in previous years. After accepting a campaign donation, however, these 33 members reversed their support for measures easing the travel ban and embargo."

When the general elections of '06 changed the face of the House, LAWG used "tempered optimism" in analyzing the new Congress. After the impact of USCD PAC in 2005, LAWG felt they needed to "win over nearly 40 of the new [2006] members" or recover those Democrats lost in 2005 and 2006. LAWG saw this as a "serious challenge" in the new House, and they also knew other forces would be at play. In 2005, they had found it "unsettling" that Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz had "personally engaged in a lobbying crusade to secure formidable opposition to the [Cuba] amendments."


In April of this year, Kate Ackley of Roll Call wrote about the USCD PAC's new focus on Democrats and its lobbying efforts in the House. Ackley took special notice when she saw that USCD PAC had not only increased its campaign contributions to Democrats by 15%, but had also made significant contributions to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her new PAC, Democrats Win Seats (DWS PAC). According to Ackley, Wasserman Schultz, who fully supports the US embargo (like many other Florida Reps.), has received "a total of $22,000" for her DWS PAC from the USCD PAC.

But, upon closer inspection, the DWS PAC, which makes contributions exclusively to Democrats, doesn't seem to favor candidates by their position on the US embargo. Relying on contributions filed with the Federal Elections Commission for the 2007-2008 cycle, and based on votes for/against July's Rangel amendment, the DWS PAC has so far contributed evenly to both Democratic supporters and opponents of the US embargo. Before the July vote, 33 Democrats received an average contribution of about $1,800 from DWS PAC, of which 55% voted against the Rangel amendment and 45% in support. But, there's a distinction when we compare total House votes to the Rangel amendment, where 29% of Democrats voted in opposition, and a strong 71% voted in favor. Perhaps the DWS PAC is choosing more pro-embargo Democrats.

Using the same method on Democrats that voted for/against the Rangel amendment, Democrats that received USCD PAC contributions before July were far more likely to vote in opposition. From 69 Democrats who received USCD PAC contributions this year, 77% voted against the the Rangel amendment and 23% in support. Furthermore, those Democrats who voted against the Rangel amendment had received far greater average campaign contributions (about $3000) than those who voted in favor (about $1,800) from the USCD PAC.


A month before the Rangel vote, Josephine Hearn for Politico was reporting about "a spat between [Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Rep. Jose Serrano] on the House Appropriations Committee" after a disagreement on a proposal to lift the Cuba travel ban.

"The disagreement arose when Serrano, the subcommittee chairman, who is a longtime proponent of normalizing relations with Cuba, planned to include a provision into the 2008 financial services appropriations bill to lift the ban on travel to Cuba. But Wasserman Schultz opposed Serrano's move and approached other members of the subcommittee without his knowledge to lobby against it, Democratic congressional sources said."

"Serrano and his allies said an unwritten rule existed on the Appropriations Committee directing members to defer to subcommittee chairmen, known as cardinals, and air their objections with the full committee."

Serrano was upset by Wasserman Schultz's actions. But, the possibility of a confrontation from a split committee made Serrano abandon the Cuba travel proposal. According to Hearn "animosity has escalated" between Serrano and Wasserman Schultz.

So, going into '08, it seems like a political battle over Cuba is determined to escalate, especially with the Democratic deadlock. The several months ahead will slowly reveal the fate of the US embargo towards Cuba. But, at the present time, I agree with Robert Muse who sees "permanent estrangement between the U.S. and Cuba" (just like the last ten years in my opinion) as a possible scenario for the future, especially if the US Congress and the Administration continue their hard-line approach to Cuba.

[Part 1]

No comments: