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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

‘Money out the window’

The Popular Democratic Party escalated its pre-election season offensive on Tuesday, charging that the shadow delegates elected to lobby for statehood in the U.S. Congress have been violating the law that created their posts. (Photo by Richard Gutiérrez/The San Juan Daily Star)

PDP: Statehood lobbyists are violating their own law

By Richard Gutiérrez

Last week, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) leaders had a lot to say about the governing New Progressive Party administration and its use of federal funds. It was clear that the rival party, which currently controls the island Legislature but hasn’t fielded a winning candidate for governor since 2011, isn’t happy about the way the current administration is handling federal funds. This is to be expected from a rival party given that every political party believes its ideas and strategies will work better than the one that is sitting in office.

The PDP on Tuesday escalated its pre-election season offensive beyond just pointing out the mistakes of the current administration. PDP President Jesús Manuel Ortiz González, accompanied at a press conference by Rep. Joel Sánchez Ayala, Sen. Juan Zaragoza Gómez and the party’s federal affairs secretary and candidate for resident commissioner, Pablo José Hernández Rivera, charged that the so-called shadow delegates to the U.S. Congress, who were elected to lobby for statehood in the U.S. capital, are currently violating House Bill (HB) 167-2020, known as the Law to Create a Congressional Delegation in Puerto Rico.

“This group of delegates was created to fight exclusively for an annexation project of Puerto Rico as a state, based on plebiscites of the year 2020, and currently in Congress, there is no such thing as an annexation project that seeks for the island to be part of the mainland as a state,” Ortiz González said. “In other words, they aren’t following their own law.”

In 2021, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) filed House Resolution 1522, which died in December 2022, after the midterm elections in which the Republican Party gained control of the House of Representatives. What is currently under consideration by Congress is another bill, authored by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), which seeks to hold another plebiscite for the island.

“In other words, there is no reason for the … so-called lobbyists for statehood to be wasting the money of the people of Puerto Rico to promote another consultation that will have zero results in the federal capital,” the PDP president said.

“I want to be very clear about this,” Ortiz González continued. “This group of statehood lobbyists are not complying with their ministerial duties because they are violating their own administrative law, as they are tied strictly to the 2020 plebiscite. To lobby for another plebiscite to be held, this would be against the status quo.”

In other words, the creation of the congressional delegate positions gives the administration a duty, which is to lobby for the acceptance of Puerto Rico as a state of the union, not lobby Congress for another plebiscite, Ortiz González reiterated. Thus the PDP charges that what the administration of Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia is currently doing is outside the bounds of HB 167.

Ortiz González went on to note that in April 2022, “Justice Secretary Domingo Emmanuelli asked the court to dismiss Elizabeth Torres Rodríguez for not complying with the duties of her position.”

“In his legal resource, Emmanuelli stated that back then the delegate [Torres Rodríguez] was not complying with the oath she took to [work to] bring statehood to the island faster,” the PDP president said. “She ignored the provisions of Bill 167 from 2020 and didn’t comply with it. Therefore, the Department of Justice is already aware that the delegates are violating their own enabling law by not complying with the statute.”

Ortiz González believes that this is why the Justice secretary must go to court today and ask for the dismissal of all congressional delegates. According to the PDP, the same rule that applied to Torres Rodríguez last year has to apply to all delegates because of the fact that they aren’t looking for the annexation of Puerto Rico but rather for another plebiscite.

Here is where the words turn into action: the PDP will file a complaint with the Office of Government Ethics to investigate if the statehood lobbyists are complying with the stipulations of HB 167, and if they are violating the law they will have to reimburse any public funds paid through that law.

On top of that, the PDP also will also take steps to strike down Law 167.

“We warned about this back then and it is becoming a reality that the statehood lobbyists have failed their own party,” Sánchez Ayala said. “Which could make the expenses they billed illegal, which is why we’re here.”

“Given the executive branch’s refusal to eliminate statehood lobbyists, our delegation is working, among other things, to repeal the law,” the lawmaker continued. “Last Tuesday … the committee that I chair held a public final consideration session and approved HB 139, which has the purpose of repealing Law 167-2020, the legislation that created the congressional delegation. This bill will be evaluated and approved in the ordinary session today, Tuesday, September 12.”

The party aims to eventually pass the bill in the island Senate. Sánchez Ayala believes the PDP has all the evidence it needs to support its claims as a result of Joint Resolution 135, which ordered an investigation of the work that has been done by the statehood lobbyists.

“After this press conference, I will have an executive meeting with members of the [House] Committee on Federal Relations … to present all of the evidence of the ethical mistakes that the statehood lobbyists have made …” the legislator said.

Meanwhile the funds used to pay the lobbyists to date adds up to just over $1 million.

“The biggest problem is that public funds are being used for this,” Zaragoza Gómez said. “It is questionable to use public funds for affairs like this. Sure, in an administration that has an exorbitant amount of money, $1 million may not seem like much, but with $1 million we could’ve pushed the transition to SNAP, or even scholarships of $30,000 a year to doctors … to keep them from leaving the island. We could even have air conditioning in various schools if the administration was smart with the use of public funds.”

Later on Tuesday, the governor told the press that the PDP’s allegations that the delegates/lobbyists for statehood are failing to fulfill their lawful duties “is clearly false and so easy to refute.”

Pierluisi said that in his opinion, In his opinion, if the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, HR 2757, includes statehood as an alternative status, then the delegates/lobbyists are fulfilling their functions by seeking approval of the measure in Congress.

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