July 19, 2011

Labrador campaigns in Puerto Rican homeland

John Miller Associated Press
 
Betsy Russell photo

Raul Labrador
(Full-size photo)

BOISE — Marking his close ties to Puerto Rico, U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador held campaign events in April on the tropical island where he was born.

According to his July Federal Election Commission report, the Idaho Republican spent about $14,450 on three fundraising events over four days at the Ponce Hilton and Casino on Puerto Rico’s southern tip and the 672-room Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa, which has a one-mile uninterrupted white sand beach.

Labrador reported the expenses from events, catering, meals, lodging, airfare and in-flight Internet use and service, as well as a $340 jungle excursion by bus into Puerto Rico’s El Yunque rainforest.

His chief of staff, John Goodwin, told the Associated Press the campaign raised $29,750 related to the events, with $10,500 from Puerto Rico-based contributors, according to the FEC report.

At least $4,000 was from executives at Distileria Serralles and their family members; the company markets itself as the second-largest premium rum producer for the U.S. market.

About $9,000 came from political action committees, including California dairies and the Property Casualty Insurers of America, with $4,500 contributed by small donors. Not all of the incoming money was included on the July report, because some arrived during the previous reporting period, Goodwin said.

“That margin may not be enough to convince us to do it again,” said Goodwin, who accompanied the first-term congressman on his island excursion, on the success of the event. “We’re still going to evaluate” whether the returns are enough to merit additional campaign events in Puerto Rico, he said.

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated U.S. territory.

Labrador, who was born in Puerto Rico in 1967 but moved to Las Vegas with his mother as a young boy, attracted attention this week when he called President Barack Obama’s credentials for reducing the U.S. deficit a joke on national TV.

In total, Labrador raised $98,469 from all contributors in the April through June period, while spending $62,475, leaving him with just over $102,000 in his campaign coffers as of June 30.

He also made a campaign trip to the island before his election last November, when he beat former U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick, a Democrat. Labrador had significant support from members of the conservative tea party movement.

Goodwin, who said he traveled to Puerto Rico with Labrador on a volunteer basis and not in his role as the lawmaker’s top legislative aide, called the bus trip into the rainforest on the flanks of the El Yunque mountains “a low-cost cultural event for participants in the trip.”

In addition to reaping $2,000 each from liquor industry executive Alberto J. Torruella, a vice president at Distileria Serralles, and Daiana Serralles, wife of the distillery’s president, Labrador accepted $500 from Angel M. Cintron-Garcia, a former Puerto Rican legislator and lawyer; $1,000 from the family of Jaime Fonalledas, president of the company that owns the Caribbean region’s largest shopping mall; and $2,000 from lawyer Rafael Guillermety Matienzo.

Asked if he thought supporters in Idaho would approve of the trip to a luxurious Caribbean casino and posh beach resort to woo campaign cash, Goodwin said Labrador’s Puerto Rican ties and the realities of campaigning provide ample justification to cast the net as broadly as possible for financial backers to underwrite a 2012 re-election bid.

“Raul was born in Puerto Rico and lived there in his childhood,” Goodwin said. “He still has family and friends there who are proud of his success. Unfortunately, you need to raise money for campaigns, and this was a way to raise money from his supporters.”

Labrador’s wife, Rebecca Labrador, who accompanied the congressman on his Puerto Rican excursion, was paid at least $4,100 in salary for work on his re-election campaign during the period covered by the finance report.

Rebecca Labrador is answering phone calls to his “Labrador4Idaho” campaign number. On Monday, she answered “Hi, this is Becca,” and said she was taking care of campaign details until the office accelerates its activities in advance of the 2012 election. She declined to say how much her husband is paying her.

“She brings a lot of expertise to the campaign and is very valuable to the operation,” Goodwin said. “She’s the only person doing much for the campaign for the time being.”

© Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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