By TODD J. GILLMAN | The Dallas Morning News
Texans deny donation link, defend action on rum label as anti-Castro
WASHINGTON – Hoping to settle a festering dispute involving Cuba, rum and international trade, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith filed a bill Wednesday that would give control of the legendary “Havana Club” label to Bacardi-Martini Ltd.
A watchdog group criticized the move, saying it was an apparent favor for a donor linked to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, a Smith ally who tried to add similar language to an appropriations bill last fall.
A grand jury in Austin investigating allegations that corporate funds were used in Texas House races is looking at a $20,000 Bacardi donation last summer to Texans for a Republican Majority, a group Mr. DeLay created.
Aides for Mr. Smith, R-San Antonio, and Mr. DeLay denied any tie to campaign donations.
Bacardi is a distiller owned by foes of Fidel Castro, whose regime seized the label in the 1960 Communist takeover. It markets Havana Club in the United States, but elsewhere, the French company Pernod-Ricard uses the label in a joint venture with the Cuban government.
“This legislation builds on a law that prevents the United States from recognizing Fidel Castro’s illegal confiscation of intellectual property,” said Mr. Smith, R-San Antonio.
But Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, called it “bad policy” and an apparent favor.
“This is solely being done on behalf of Bacardi. Nobody else wants this. ... It’s good to have a friend in Tom DeLay,” Ms. Sloan said.
During the 2002 elections, Bacardi gave about $40,000 to two political action committees controlled by Mr. DeLay, including the Texans for a Republican Majority donation.