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The political action committee of Miami-based Bacardi U.S.A. made unreported campaign contributions to five members of Congress, including Sen. Bill Nelson and Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, according to a complaint filed Tuesday by a Washington, D.C., watchdog group. Four of those members, including Nelson and the Diaz-Balart brothers, signed on last month as co-sponsors of a bill that would help Bacardi in a longstanding trademark dispute with the Cuban government and French spirits giant Pernod Ricard. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the Federal Election Commission to expand an ongoing inquiry of the Bacardi political action committee and its Washington-based treasurer, Robert M. Higdon. The investigation was opened in March when the citizens group first alleged failures by the Bacardi PAC to properly disclose contributions. CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said the Bacardi PAC’s contributions were found by combing through campaign reports filed by the various elected officials or their committees. Sloan also said the timing of the contributions, in the weeks and months before the legislation was introduced, “suggests a quid pro quo.” Bacardi spokeswoman Patricia Neal called that “ludicrous.” Those who got Bacardi contributions are longtime allies who’ve supported Bacardi before on other issues, she said. Neal also said that Bacardi has been in constant communication with the FEC to provide all “additional information that they’d like.” The complaint said campaign finance reports showed that, without reporting the contributions properly to the FEC, the Bacardi PAC gave Nelson’s re-election campaign $2,500, the Balart-Diaz brothers’ joint leadership PACs $1,000 each, and the re-election campaign of Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley $1,000. In addition, the PAC gave the leadership PAC of longtime Bacardi ally Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the House majority leader, $2,500. And it gave Connie Mack IV, who’s running for a U.S. House seat in Fort Lauderdale, $1,000. Further checking by the Daily Business Review found a $1,000 contribution to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., that Bacardi’s PAC did not report to the FEC. According to the complaint filed by the citizens group, the Bacardi PAC failed to file either a year-end report for 2003 or a quarterly report for the first part of 2004. The year-end report was deemed not filed by the FEC because the Bacardi PAC filed only a paper report, not an electronic report as now required by the FEC. The paper report only disclosed that the PAC took in $37,000 in 2003 and contributed $8,500, but did not identify the sources of that money or lists of candidates who received contributions. The group’s allegations come at a time when corporations and labor unions are struggling to find ways to continue funneling contributions to members of Congress in the wake of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. With the new law outlawing huge, unregulated soft money contributions to political parties, corporations and unions looking to buy influence on Capitol Hill have returned to the idea of using PACs to raise so-called hard money for specific candidates. To do that legally, though, PACs must comply with federal election laws that require them to disclose how much they raised, who gave it, and who got it. Bacardi U.S.A. is a subsidiary of Bermuda-based Bacardi Ltd. U.S. law as interpreted in 1999 by the FEC, in a case brought by Bacardi, allows U.S. subsidiaries of foreign corporations to collect and bundle campaign contributions from officers, managers and stockholders of the corporation. CREW is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public accountability group. It says in its four-page complaint that the Bacardi PAC also made an undisclosed contribution in January to DeLay’s leadership PAC. BILL TO HELP BACARDI Nelson, the Diaz-Balarts and Grassley all are co-sponsors of controversial legislation that would benefit Bacardi. The bill would change U.S. trademark law to help Bacardi in its decadelong war with the Cuban government and French spirits giant Pernod Ricard over the rights to the Havana Club rum label. The legislation appears to help no one else. “What’s so interesting is that every other corporation out there, like Caterpillar and DuPont and General Motors, hate this legislation,” said CREW executive director Sloan, a former federal prosecutor. “Only Bacardi likes it, and, amazingly, people who are pushing it are getting money, which suggests a quid pro quo.” A spokesman for Nelson, Dan McLaughlin, disagreed. “Of course it’s not a quid pro quo,” he said. “It’s a case in which Bill’s sticking up for a business that’s getting a raw deal.” Jill Kozeny, a spokeswoman for Sen. Grassley, said he has long had a “policy of accepting contributions as long as they are legal and there are no strings attached.” She added that Bacardi’s opponents on the trademark battle have given to him too. Representatives for the Diaz-Balart brothers said the congressmen were unavailable for comment. Press spokesmen for Rep. DeLay and Sen. Reid did not return phone messages before deadline. Bacardi wants to alter � 211 of U.S. trademark law. That section was enacted to prevent foreign companies from registering in U.S. courts trademarks linked to property confiscated by foreign governments. But in October 2000, the European Union filed suit challenging the law on behalf of France. The World Trade Organization subsequently held that � 211 violated international intellectual property protections by denying certain trademark owners the opportunity to register and renew their trademarks in the U.S. The bills pending in the Senate and House, S 2373 and HR 4225, seek to modify the law to comply with the WTO ruling and preserve U.S. legal protections for Bacardi that, among other things, have allowed it to block Pernod Ricard from obtaining the U.S. trademark registration to the Havana Club label. Those bills were co-sponsored by Sen. Nelson, Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Sens. Grassley and Reid after Bacardi made its unreported contributions to them. DeLay is not a co-sponsor of the legislation sought by Bacardi. But he was Bacardi’s chief ally last year in a failed attempt to get similar legislation passed. CREW’s complaint also identifies Connie Mack IV as a recipient of secret campaign money from Bacardi’s PAC. Mack is the son of former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack. In 2000, shortly before retiring from the Senate, the elder Mack sponsored trademark legislation that helped Bacardi in its Havana Club battle. He’s currently a Capitol Hill lobbyist for Bacardi. Nelson spokesman McLaughlin said Mack has lobbied Nelson on Bacardi’s behalf. CREW investigated and found that the Bacardi PAC made unreported campaign contributions to the Democracy Believers Political Action Committee, a leadership PAC jointly sponsored by the Diaz-Balart brothers, and the Grassley Committee Inc., the Iowa senator’s main campaign committee. Leadership PACs are established by members of Congress, who use them to increase their power and influence by, among other things, raising money for fellow members of Congress. “There could be a lot more money, but this is all I found going [randomly] through FEC filings,” Sloan said in an interview. “By Bacardi failing to file, we can’t know what’s actually going on.” In October, CREW asked the Internal Revenue Service to audit ARMPAC, DeLay’s leadership PAC, for allegedly failing to disclose that Bacardi provided free liquor and merchandise to members of Congress and lobbyists who attended an ARMPAC fund-raiser at a golf resort in Puerto Rico in February 2002. Federal law requires such reporting, but Sloan said that the IRS has not said whether it was looking into the matter.

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