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The Other Body

During the House debate last week over reconstituting Congress in the event of a terrorist attack or natural catastrophe, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) seemed to come out against the 17th Amendment, which authorized the direct election of U.S. Senators.

“I would argue that it’s had a negative effect on this country,” said the Texas Republican, who has never been a huge fan of the way the Senate operates anyway.

But DeLay isn’t really against the 17th Amendment, is he? He doesn’t want to return to the pre-1913 era, when Senators

were elected by state legislatures, sometimes under some very questionable circumstances?

It turns out that he does. DeLay “shares a similar position with [former Nixon White House counsel] John Dean, [Sen.] Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and several Founders who have monuments around this city,” said Jonathan Grella, DeLay’s press secretary, naming other prominent Americans who support the Constitution’s original method for choosing Senators.

But don’t expect DeLay to be seeking to overturn the 17th Amendment anytime soon. “If you can’t redistrict the Senate, this is the next best thing,” Grella joked.

Rum Lovers. The Mack family of Florida has a long relationship with Bacardi USA, makers of Bacardi rum. When he was in Congress, former Sen. Connie Mack III (R-Fla.) was a strong advocate for the company, especially in the lengthy dispute over who owns the rights to the famous “Havana Club” rum label. The ex-Senator, who retired in 2000, is now lobbying for Shaw Pittman LLP on this same issue.

Back in 1999, Mack authored a provision of U.S. trademark law known as Section 211. It’s designed to prevent foreign companies from registering or defending in American courts any trademarks associated with property expropriated by foreign governments. The measure was aimed at a Bacardi rival, French liquor company Pernod-Ricard, and the Cuban government, who together set up a joint venture in 1993 to market Havana Club, the rights for which were seized by the Castro regime back in 1960. After protests by the European Union, the World Trade Organization ruled that the Section 211 measure was illegal, and the United States has until the end of this year to change the law or face retaliation by the EU. Bacardi claims it purchased the rights to Havana Club from its rightful owners and has lobbied hard to retain the Section 211 provision, even convincing DeLay to get involved in the fight last fall, although that effort came to naught.

Bacardi, which has spread around hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations over the last several years, has now given money to Connie Mack IV, who is running for a seat in the House this November. On March 31, Bacardi’s PAC gave $1,000 to the younger Mack’s bid to replace the retiring Rep. Porter Goss (R) in Florida’s 14th district. The company also gave $500 to his state Senate campaign in 2000.

So is it OK for the liquor company that hired the dad as a lobbyist to give to the son as a candidate?

“Sure it’s appropriate,” said Jeff Cohen, campaign manager for the younger Mack. “Connie is his own man.” Cohen “had no idea” if the younger Mack had ever discussed the Section 211 issue with his father.

Pat Neal, head of corporate communications for Bacardi, said it was “100 percent appropriate. Why wouldn’t it be? Connie Mack [IV] supports fiscal responsibility and lowering taxes. The spirits industry is one of the most heavily taxed industries in the United States.”

Neal was unaware if other Bacardi executives had given to Mack, or if the company had done any fundraising events for him, and could not say if the firm would max out in PAC contributions to the younger Mack.

Mack the Elder did not return a call seeking comment.

Alabama Slammer. Continuing on a recent theme in this column, Albert Turner Jr., a Democratic candidate in the Alabama 7th District race, was arrested last week on a harassment charge stemming from an incident that occurred during a April 22, 2003, meeting of the Perry County Commission.

A long-shot candidate who is challenging Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), Turner is alleged to have choked Vinnie Royster, a well-known critic of his, during a closed-door session of the panel. Turner is the vice chairman of the commission.

As Turner was choking her, Royster reportedly retaliated by “grabbing his testicles” until he let go of her, according to The Demopolis Times, a local newspaper. “I had to reach under there and find something,” Royster claimed to The Democrat-Reporter of Linden, Ala.

Turner disputed Royster’s account of the incident and said he was just defending himself from her onslaught. “A woman grabbed my testicles and I was trying to protect myself. And I don’t back down from that — no shape, form or fashion,” Turner told The Demopolis Times.

After a lengthy investigation by police, and widely varied testimony about what actually happened, a warrant was issued for Turner’s arrest last week.

Royster was apparently upset that Turner, during one of his weekly radio shows, used a racial slur to refer to opponents of a landfill project he supports. Royster was reportedly playing a tape of Turner’s show during a closed-door session of the county commission when the fight with Turner began.

Mail Mixups. HOH usually loves the old “fundraising letter sent to a member of the other party” story. It’s a hardy election-year perennial, good for a chuckle or two each cycle. But lately, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have made it too easy for us.

At least four House Democrats — Reps. Chet Edwards (Texas), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Shelley Berkley (Nev.) and Jerrold Nadler (N.Y). — all received invitations recently from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to join the Republican Presidential Task Force. For the bargain price of just $120 per year, the Democrats would be granted “Platinum Member Status” in the GOP task force and have their names added to “National Republican Victory Monument,” which if you didn’t know, “is located just to the south of the Eternal Flame of Freedom of the Task Force’s national headquarters in the Ronald Reagan Republican Center” in Washington (Also known as NRSC headquarters).

The really humorous thing is that the letters came addressed to “Hon,” which is evidently short for “Honorable,” as in the “Honorable Shelley Berkley.” So the pitch from Frist to Berkley began “Dear Hon.” And “Hon Shelley Berkley” was offered a certificate of membership in the Republican Presidential Task Force. In addition, the mail was even sent to the Democrats’ office on Capitol Hill. It is illegal to solicit political donations on federal property.

“We’re always happy to extend an invitation to join the Republican Party because we have a big tent,” joked NRSC spokesman Dan Allen.

Not to be outdone, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has begun soliciting chiefs of staff to House Republicans for financial support. John Hambel, the top aide to Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), and John Albaugh with Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), received fundraising letters from Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) respectively. Both letters were addressed to the men personally and sent to their work addresses.

“If you look at everything that has happened in the Senate races in the last few months, the momentum is on our side,” countered Brad Woodhouse of the DSCC. “We want everyone to get on the bandwagon while there’s an opportunity.”

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