Some House of Representatives lawmakers want to expose the names and fees of “lobbyists or consultants” on the payroll of the Saipan casino, Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC, with a particular focus on those paid to lobby the Legislature or government.
During a meeting with the casino regulators yesterday, House Commerce and Tourism committee chair Joseph Leepan Guerrero (R-Saipan) asked regulators to, at the earliest convenience, provide the listing of “so-called lobbyists” that Imperial Pacific have listed down on their master vendor list so they could “readily identify who are behind” these individuals.
Leepan Guerrero told Saipan Tribune after the meeting that the regulators, the Commonwealth Casino Commission, disclosed that “a former congressman and respectful individuals submitted their intent to lobby for” Imperial Pacific. “We want to track those down and make sure it does not impact our ability to enact laws. We don’t want to be put into the spot where we are working with lobbyists related with Best Sunshine [International, Ltd]. We want to make sure everything is transparent…We don’t want any special interest we are giving to Best Sunshine [casino company under IPI], we want to make sure that the community is protected at large.”
He said these consultants are “affluent people, adding that, “most of them are local people from here in the CNMI” and saying that lawmakers want to “account for them” and know who these individuals are.
Leepan Guerrero, though, when asked, said he did not know these individuals’ names and that the commission needs to “categorize” these consultants and work with Imperial Pacific to signify “who is lobbying for the Legislature, or the government, and who is lobbying for the hotel and casino industry and so forth,” adding that it was particularly important to know who is paid to lobbying the government. “We need to make certain,” he said, “that we are not put in the spot that we are in favor of the IPI. I for one support the intent of the casino, which is to generate revenue. I am looking forward to the completion of the Grand Mariana Casino Resort…The economy of the CNMI people is going to boom.”
The commission was invited by the House tourism committee to speak to lawmakers yesterday on 10 questions sent earlier—ranging from tax to hotel and casino operations information, among others—that also asked for a list of “lobbyists” Imperial Pacific employed.
According to the July 6, 2016, report provided to the Legislature, the House asked for the number of casino lobbyists including names and their fees.
“IPI report submitted to the Commission on July 1, 2016, reported Mr. Alfred Yue as their casino lobbyist with a monthly fee of $5,000,” commission chair Juan Sablan said in the report. “However, IPI Monthly Master Vendor List shows several hundred vendors some of which were recorded as performing consultancy work.”
During the meeting yesterday, commission lawyer Michael Ernest said that Alfred Yue was the one “registered” lobbyist under IPI licensed by the Commonwealth Election Commission. Ernest noted he believes there are only four or five registered in the entire Commonwealth this year, with “the only listed IPI” being Yue.
“There was a gentleman who was a former legislator who has a lobbying license but did not disclose his principal. I know his name, I just do not know who he is working for,” Ernest said.
“We don’t know if they are so-called consultants-slash-lobbyists,” commission executive director Edward C. Deleon Guerrero told Saipan Tribune after the meeting. “They are some general description of what their purpose is,” he said. But Public Law 19-24, or the amended Saipan casino law, allows them to disclose anyone on the master vendors list if it is gaming-related.
“We do not know what the contract agreement is below $100,000. It is below our regulator licensing requirement…But now we are going to approach IPI to give us a copy of those agreement, of those consultants, and if they are gaming [related] then we will release it to the Legislature.”
Asked if these are locally based consultants, Deleon Guerrero said “some” were, adding some help with construction and design. “Several locals,” he said.
Asked if they are related in anyway to political parties and if the commission vets for this, Deleon Guerrero said, “I don’t know… We don’t really look at political parties. But we are concerned now that it be gaming,” he said. “But we don’t know that until we see the actual agreement.”
Deleon Guerrero stressed that “lobbyists are defined differently” than casinos under the casino law where lobbyists are required to register under the election commission. “But in the context of consultant, you may not be a lobbyist but you may be consultant. So if you are gaming—which we will find out—then we need to report it to the Legislature.”
Deleon Guerrero acknowledged, though, that he could imagine consultants doing similar jobs as lobbyists do but emphasized, “the law treats lobbyist very specifically.”
Deleon Guerrero assured Leepan Guerrero yesterday that they would provide a list of the consultants as soon as they get clarification if they are “gaming-related” consultants, as the commission believes that the Saipan casino law limits them to releasing information for those on the vendors list only if they are tied to casino gaming.
Rep. Edward Propst (Ind-Saipan) believes they may have to revisit the gaming law to make it more transparent for the public, when sought for comment on the issue of consultant work.
“We want to make sure that nothing is kept in the dark,” he said. “Financial disclosures are very important. We want to know where the money is coming in from and we would like to know the breakdown.”
Propst said it was “absolutely” a concern that these consultants might pose some clout or influence politically and said “they need to know who they.”
“We need to know their end game,” Propst said. “So if they are politically paid lobbyists that will shed some light on what their positions are with this. As representatives, we speak for the people; we are hired by the people. These are lobbyists paid for by a special organization to get there way so that is a very valid concern.”