In a front-page exposé, the Chicago Tribune today delved into the questionable Latin American investments of Rep. Jerry Weller (R-IL):
In 2002 Weller made his first official congressional trip to Nicaragua. Before the year was over, he had bought his first lot and eventually began looking for land he could subdivide into parcels that would attract buyers looking for prime ocean-view property at a relatively low price. It is an unusual investment for a member of Congress, and Weller's foreign land holdings seem far more extensive than any other House member's.
His investment got a boost from the narrowly passed Central America Free Trade Agreement, which Weller pitched in 2005 as a tool to enable businesses in his hard-pressed district to sell tractors and food to Latin America. CAFTA also includes additional legal protection for American investors, including those who have purchased lots from Weller.
What he didn't say was that, while he publicly pushed CAFTA, Weller privately was pursuing his land development, some 2,000 miles away. The House approved the trade pact in July 2005 by only two votes, 217-215.
Besides not mentioning his Nicaraguan investments during the CAFTA debate on the House floor, Weller did not give anywhere close to a complete accounting of them in his required 2005 financial disclosure statement. House ethics rules require representatives to disclose all property they own except for their personal residences.
Although Weller defeated his opponent last year by a healthy 10 points, the district has a PVI of only R+1.1. And while Kerry lost the district by 7 points, Gore came within 2. Weller's ethical troubles should definitely put this seat in play.
UPDATE (James): And where is Weller to defend himself from the bullies at the Tribune? The answer: in hiding.
When asked about the discrepancies, Weller's office first insisted that questions be given to the congressman in writing. After a week passed with no response to the written questions, The Tribune requested to talk to Weller in person. On Thursday afternoon, Weller's spokesman said he would not answer questions and had no comment.
The congressman missed all recorded House votes in Washington this week. His spokesman said he was out of the city, caring for his 1-year-old daughter.
Currently, the only prospective candidate against Weller is Jerry Weber, the president of Kankakee Community College. However, I wouldn't be surprised if other local Democrats might be taking a closer look at this race given these recent developments.