By Nancy I. Maanao
Congressional candidate Robert Underwood is blasting local airwaves with commercials impugning his opponent - Congressman Michael San Nicolas's integrity in relation to a pending ethics complaint in Congress. Underwood's campaign, however, is refusing to acknowledge their candidate's proven misuse of federal funds in his last year in office; a scandal that embarrassed Guam in national headlines. Mr. Underwood himself has been misinforming voters about the incident involving his malfeasance, providing written responses to inquiries on the matter that the events never happened despite documented evidence of it.
The Underwood campaign has been pushing a narrative based on a complaint lodged by a fired former legislative staffer of San Nicolas, who also handled the receipt of money into the San Nicolas campaign. The staffer alleged the congressman knowingly received campaign contributions exceeding federal campaign limits.
Mr. San Nicolas is fighting the allegations, saying he didn't handle the money, had no idea his former staffer accepted the contribution, and had his campaign return the money once accounts were reconciled and he became aware of the problem.
"The issue is about trustworthiness," Mr. Underwood told The Guam Daily Post. "What he's been doing is dismiss this as staff error. The amount is pretty large...I don't believe it's an error. It's a blatant disregard for the rules and laws."
While Mr. Underwood does not believe Mr. San Nicolas's claim of staff error regarding campaign funds, he himself told investigators in 2002 that the misuse of FEDERAL funds for his campaign was caused by a staffer.
The 2002 Underwood Federal Funds Scandal that Embarrassed Guam
On May 13, 2002, then-Philippine President Macapagal Arroyo gave Mr. Underwood the Presidential Merit Award at Malacanang Palace in Manila. He then used that information in his Congressional flier to Guam residents and later in a political flier sent to voters. As a result, he was investigated by the U.S. Government for using President Macapagal Arroyo in his official federal business and had to pay back to the U.S. Government the cost of the mailings. He was found to have abused his U.S. Government “franking privileges.”
According to a September 5, 2002 article from United Press International, "Three Guamanians who received the mailing reportedly wrote letters raising the issue, and one, Roger Slater, filed an official complaint with the commission that oversees the use of the frank."
Mr. Underwood claimed at the time that it was a mistake caused by a staffer. Ironic. Rather than denying the allegations and fighting to prove his innocence, Mr. Underwood paid his way out of the investigation.
House Report 107-810, published January 2, 2003, confirmed Mr. Underwood paid back the federal government for the cost of the mailing in order for the investigation to go away.
"Dismiss a complaint in the matter of Roger Slater
v. Congressman Robert Underwood, on the grounds that the
Respondent (Underwood) reimbursed the Treasury of the United
States in the amount of $217.80, and the mailing was the result
of staff error, with no willful intent to violate franking law
and that no further investigation and proceedings are required."
Voters this year have written to Mr. Underwood about the incident. The former congressman wrote back, at least once, to one voter denying the scandal ever happened.