Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Congressman For Red Lobster (R)

More Republican corruption -

WASHINGTON, October 18, 2005 — A powerful member of Congress may have broken the law by not paying taxes on foreign trips paid for by a shadowy private foundation in large part bankrolled by the parent company of the Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurant chains, the Center for Public Integrity has discovered.

Rep. Richard Pombo, a California Republican who is chairman of the House Resources Committee, has taken at least two foreign trips costing more than $23,000 that were paid for by the nonprofit International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources.

Experts on tax issues said the law requires Pombo to return the costs of the foreign trips to the foundation. If not, both the foundation and the member of Congress could face stiff penalties from the IRS.

...Pombo said he did not pay taxes on his foreign trips. IFCNR does not indicate that it paid taxes on the trips anywhere on its publicly available tax documents. In fact, IFCNR checked a box on all its tax forms from 2000 through 2004 saying it did not "provide a grant to an individual for travel, study, or other similar purposes."

The ironically names International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources features articles on its website attacking animal right's groups and defend corporations such as Darden and Monsanto.

A three-part series defending Monsanto's biotechnology business promises to examine "the public crucifixion of a corporate name, Monsanto, and the mutation of environmental and animal advocacy."

The Humane Society of the United States is singled out for some of the harshest criticism on the Web site. The group's push to end Canadian seal hunts has included a snow crab boycott effort that in recent months focused on Red Lobster. One article on the Web site attacking the Humane Society over the boycott effort is titled "Target Red Lobster: A Lesson for Corporations & Others."

Humane Society spokesman Michael Markarian said he is not surprised that IFCNR has criticized his group.

"As far as we can tell, they are committed to coming out against any sort of humane treatment of animals," said Markarian. "They are for commercial whaling. They are for trapping. They include cock fighters as a resource management group."

IFCNR's big funders are the Darden Group which includes Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Darden has given a total of $574,000 to IFCNR from 2000 through 2004, which was more than a third of its total support. Other funders to the foundation include Monsanto Corp., the Japan Whaling Association, the International Fur Trade Association, the National Trappers Association, the Maryland Trappers Association, Caspian Star Caviar, Sysco Corp., Smithfield Foods, Strauss Veal Co. and the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

Rep. Pombo, you may recall, is the man who pushed legislation that critics claim will gut the Endangered Species Act. His staffers have also drafted a working document that suggests some 16 national parks be sold off for development to close the budget gap. The trips funded by IFCNR were to whaling conferences.

Yet again, a Republican has been caught taking what amount to bribes to work the will of lobbyists instead of the will of the people.

Update 20th Oct.

More on Rep. Pombo, his "pay up or the wildlife gets it" approach and also his connections to Abramoff, Alaskan Drilling and the Chinese bid for Unocal here.

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