China en­voy choice fish­tailed his way into Kerry’s fa­vor

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY CHUCK NEUBAUER

Seven days af­ter Pres­i­dent Obama nom­i­nated him as am­bas­sador to China, Com­merce Sec­re­tary Gary F. Locke pub­licly re­versed an ear­lier de­ci­sion that ad­versely af­fected some Mas­sachusetts fish­er­men, con­stituents of Demo­cratic Sen. John F. Kerry. Mr. Locke made the change af­ter two weeks of in­tense lob­by­ing by Mr. Kerry, who chaired his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing on May 26.

Mr. Locke, whose depart­ment reg­u­lates fish­ing within 200 miles of the U.S. coast, agreed to two ma­jor con­ces­sions sought by Mr. Kerry for fish­er­men ac­cused of vi­o­la­tions who felt they had been vic­tims of overzeal­ous en­force­ment and ex­ces­sive penal­ties by fed­eral of­fi­cials.

He agreed to give fish­er­men who had not filed com­plaints an­other chance to have their cases re­viewed for fair­ness by a spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tor and to pos­si­bly get their fines re­turned or re­duced. He also agreed the fish­er­men could ask to stay the pay­ment of any pend­ing fines while a spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tor re­viewed the cases.

Since Oc­to­ber, Mr. Kerry and oth­ers in the Mas­sachusetts del­e­ga­tion had been seek­ing a 45day win­dow so fish­er­men could ask for the re­views. In Jan­uary, Mr. Locke is­sued a writ­ten de­ci­sion deny­ing the re­quest, but he pub­licly changed his stance in March af­ter his nom­i­na­tion. Mr. Kerry heads the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, which has to con­firm all am­bas­sador nom­i­nees.

“This is typ­i­cal of the give and take we see when it comes to ne­go­ti­at­ing ap­point­ments,” said Craig Hol­man, a pub­lic af­fairs lob­by­ist for Pub­lic Cit­i­zen, a watch­dog group. “It doesn’t rise to the level of be­ing scan­dalous, but it does show pol­i­tics as usual on Capi­tol Hill.”

Kerry spokes­woman Whit­ney Smith said there was “ab­so­lutely zero con­nec­tion” be­tween the sen­a­tor’s work for Mas­sachusetts fish­er­men and the Locke nom­i­na­tion. She said any sug­ges­tion to the con­trary “is pure fan­tasy,” adding that “Sec­re­tary Locke will be an out­stand­ing am­bas­sador and it’s no sur­prise that Sen. Kerry sup­ports his nom­i­na­tion.”

Shan­non Gil­son, a spokes­woman for Mr. Locke, also said the de­ci­sion re­ver­sal and Mr. Kerry’s role as chair­man were not con­nected. She said Mr. Locke changed his mind af­ter speak­ing with for­mer fed­eral Judge Charles Swart­wood III, who ser ved as the spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

“Judge Swart­wood raised broad con­cerns based on his re­view of nearly three dozen cases,” she said. “Sec­re­tary Locke de­cided to act im­me­di­ately to pro­vide those fish­er­men who be­lieve they have been wronged with an op­por­tu­nity to have their com­plaints heard.”

In Septem­ber, the Com­merce Depart­ment’s Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral is­sued a re­port say­ing fed­eral fish­ing reg­u­la­tors within the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NOAA) had, in some cases, en­gaged in “abu­sive con­duct” and had levied ex­ces­sive fines and penal­ties.

Mr. Locke then asked Judge Swart­wood to re­view some 30 cases cited in the IG’s re­port and, ear­lier this month, or­dered that $650,000 in fines be re­turned to 11 North­east fish­er­men or busi­nesses. Mr. Locke said NOAA had “over­stepped the bounds of pro­pri­ety and fair­ness.”

But some of­fi­cials at NOAA, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied be­cause they are not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly on the case, said “nu­mer­ous false al­le­ga­tions” and “fac­tual er­rors” had been al­lowed to stand in the spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tor’s re­port with­out a chal­lenge from the NOAA lead­er­ship.

One NOAA of­fi­cial said the agency’s lead­er­ship had rec­om­mended changes in en­force­ment and those pro­pos­als were go­ing for­ward, but that no apolo­gies or repa­ra­tions were war­ranted.

In early March, Mr. Kerry sought to have Mr. Locke’s Jan­uary de­ci­sion over­turned, about the time the com­merce sec­re­tary was nom­i­nated for the am­bas­sador­ship. He met with Mr. Locke and NOAA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Jane Lubchenco to plead his case, and called White House Chief of Staff Wil­liam M. Da­ley, a for­mer com­merce sec­re­tary.

Dur­ing that same time, Mr. Kerry raised the is­sue at a Se­nate hear­ing on fish­ing pol­icy, wrote a letter to Mr. Locke and Ms. Lubchenco urg­ing ac­tion, spoke again with Mr. Locke, and met with Ms. Lubchenco of NOAA “to dis­cuss the dire needs of Mas­sachusetts fish­er­men.”

On March 9 the nom­i­na­tion was an­nounced and a week later Mr. Locke pub­licly re­versed him­self, giv­ing 80 fish­er­men and busi­nesses a month to file new com­plaints and seek the re­turn of fines.


A ques­tion of pro­pri­ety: Com­merce Sec­re­tary Gary F. Locke

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