- By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Desperately seeking a lobbyist
Guam officials and business leaders have made several trips to Washington D.C. since 2015, hoping to make a case for resolving the island’s labor predicament. Despite persistent pleas, Guam has failed to convince the feds to restore the H2B visa-cap exemption that Guam enjoyed for many years.
Although the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act gives the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services the discretion to approve up to 4,000 H2B visas for defense-related projects on Guam, such flexibility doesn’t cover civilian undertakings outside of the fence.
“The H2B issue has reached a crisis point,” says Gov. Eddie B. Calvo. “We’ve been knocking on doors, sending letters, and making phone calls. The president’s chief of staff is working with us but the bureaucracy continues to block our path with red tape,” says the governor who is finishing his last term in Adelup.
Besides a non-voting delegate to Congress, Guam also has a liaison office in Washington, D.C., but Calvo says the island’s issues have not been given much attention. Margaret Metcalfe, the Calvo’s administration’s official liaison to the nation’s capital — a seeming ghost position — who makes $102,530 a year in base pay and benefits, does not seem to be of much help, if at all.
For Guam, the labor crisis is real; for national policy makers, this tiny island’s quandary is an abstraction. A territory with a population of about 160,000 second class citizens and a non-voting representative to Congress, Guam stands at the bottom of Washington D.C.’s totem pole.
And, to quote U.S. Republican Sen. Michael Enzi, “If you’re not on the table, you’re not on the menu.” Hence the explosion of the $3-billion lobbying industry that plays a huge part in American democracy — a political gamble on which Calvo desperately concedes the need to place a bet.
Citing the need for Guam to have “a constant and consistent presence” in Washington D.C., Calvo is seeking to hire a lobbying firm that will advocate for the territory’s issues and concerns in the nation’s capital — a move that some say is an indictment of Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo’s 15-year performance in Congress.
Such suggestion doesn’t perturb Bordallo, who is seeking her 11th term in Congress. “I have worked cooperatively with Governor Calvo and his staff, as well as members of the Legislature and our business community in pushing Guam’s issues and promoting our agenda in Washington,” Bordallo says. “His plan to hire a lobbying firm indicates his desire for him and his administration to be represented more fully with federal stakeholders.”
The governor’s office has published a request for proposals soliciting a firm or organization to provide multiple lobbying and consulting services. “I hope to have a good relationship with whomever he selects so that we can continue to present a united, ‘One Guam’ approach to issues important to our island,” Bordallo says. “In the meantime, as I have done for the last 15 years, I will continue my advocacy on behalf of the people of Guam and working to advance federal policies that that benefit our community.”
“If you’re not on the table, you’re not on the menu.” Hence the explosion of the $3-billion lobbying industry that plays a huge part in American democracy — a political gamble on which Calvo desperately concedes the need to place a bet.
Calvo, nevertheless, acknowledges Guam’s inherent political handicap. “We’re at a disadvantage as we don’t have a vote in Congress,” he says. “And in my seven years of visiting Washington, D.C. it has become more apparent that we need to have a constant and consistent presence; people who are able to track conversations, voice our objections, and inject our concerns and solutions into the discussion before new policies are cemented.”
With a lobbyist, he argues, “Guam can effectively communicate its concerns.” Hiring an influence-peddler, of course, entails extra cost on the taxpayers’ pockets. A review of fee of various lobbyists indicates the cost range between $25,000 and $50,000 a month per client.
Hiring a lobbying firm is a commonly accepted, albeit generally frowned upon, practice among businesses in the United States. An officially sanctioned form of political corruption — upheld by U.S. courts as “constitutionally protected free speech”— lobbying intends to gain a degree of influence on the legislative process in the hope of legislation more favorable to their business or cause being passed.
The industries utilizing lobbying as a means to gain influence come from a range of industries with the biggest spenders including pharmaceuticals, insurance and business associations as well as oil and gas. In 2015, the Chamber of Commerce of USA was the top spender at $13 million; followed by the National Association of Realtors at $7.7 million; and American Medical Association, $6.7 million.
Guam is not a stranger to lobbying. In 1998, the Guam Superior Court secretly hired the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to lobby against a proposal in Congress to place control of the trial courts under the Supreme Court of Guam. A 2002 investigation revealed Abramoff was received a total of $479,000 for his unsuccessful efforts. The Superior Court and Supreme Court were eventually unified into a single entity now known as the Judiciary of Guam.
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