The Bush Library 6: Corruption at SMU


Last month, the Rev Andrew Weaver, one of the leaders of the opposition to the Bush propaganda center masquerading as a presidential “library” that’s proposed for the campus of Southern Methodist University, sent me a link to an article he’d written for Media Transparency. It’s an astounding piece detailing conflicts of interest on the part of the SMU Board so serious that they approach corruption. Rev Weaver begins by noting that the campaign to site the library at SMU has been years in the making.

To convince the United Methodist Church (UMC) to stain its good name and a major university to give away its academic respectability by linking itself with a president that much of the world views as an authoritarian bully (Public Diplomacy, 2005; World Public Opinion, 2007) who has authorized and advocated for torture and international kidnapping is one nifty trick (Miles, 2006; Grey, 2006). Such an endeavor required skilled operators and years of stealth planning (Schutze, 2006), which according to SMU President R. Gerald Turner began in 2001, shortly after Bush became president. It required that the SMU administration hide its intentions from its faculty and from church leaders who would understand that a partisan institute lacking standard academic controls, whose mission undoubtedly will include justifying crimes against humanity, would be a bad idea (Weaver and Crawford, 2007). To achieve these goals Bush needs powerful friends in high places and he has them in the SMU Trustees.

He sure does. The Board is packed with family friends.

At least 25 of the 41 trustees (61 percent) have personal, financial, and/or political relationships with Bush, and many have been major fundraisers and contributors to his political campaigns. Furthermore, one of the three United Methodist bishops who serve as SMU trustees, Scott Jones, publicly endorsed the Bush project months before a formal proposal was even presented to the Board (Tooley, 2007).

Twenty-two of the trustees have donated to one or more of the Bush political campaigns and/or the Republican National Committee in support of Bush….

Whoosh. So a comfortable majority of the Board are Bush Babies and the vast majority of them are actual Bush donors. “Conflict of interest” is putting it mildly.

And that’s just the beginning. Rev Weaver has uncovered a connection between the library and Bush Buddy oil billionaire Ray Hunt, a man Andrew calls the “central figure in bringing the Bush think tank proposal to SMU.” One of the richest men in the world, Hunt is a long-time Bush donor and appears to have bought himself a seat on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Hunt and his spouse have donated more than $460,000 to Republican state campaigns, while his company and its employees contributed more than $1 million to Republican causes between 1995 and 2002 (Grimaldi, 2002). He gave $100,000 toward the 2001 Bush inaugural festivities and one of his corporations, Hunt Consolidated, gave another $250,000 toward the Bush 2005 presidential inaugural gala (Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, 2007). In addition, Hunt donated a whopping $35 million toward the Bush library/think tank to secure additional property for the project (Schutze, 2006).

One month after 9/11, Bush honored his friend Ray Hunt with a seat on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), and he was re-appointed in January 2006 (Bryce, 2005). According to the White House, this board operates to offer the president “objective, expert advice” on the conduct of foreign intelligence (Wolffe and Bailey, 2005b). Hunt, with international business interests, has access through PFIAB to intelligence that is unavailable to most members of Congress. This group is privy to the most current and sensitive information gathered by the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the military intelligence organizations, and several others sources (Bryce, 2005). PFIAB operates in complete secrecy. According to Salon magazine, members of this oversight board “are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act and unlike other public servants who work for the president, there is no public disclosure of the PFIAB members’ financial interests” (Bryce, 2005).

That an oil industry billionaire is sitting on an intelligence board at all is – or should be – a major scandal. I should think that if no one else was outraged, rival oil industry execs at least would be livid, but they aren’t. And even the blogosphere has ignored this.

But Andrew still hasn’t scratched the bottom of this slimy barrel. Hunt is a major investor in and a member of the BOD of – wait for it – Halliburton and has been since Cheney was CEO. Despite a raft of Enron-like accounting tricks including offshore tax shelters and lucrative illegal transactions with outlawed countries like Iran, when Bush and Cheney came into office, Halliuburton was in financial straits.

Despite using tax havens and earning millions in profits from rogue states like Iran, Halliburton experienced financial distress. In late 2001, according to Fortune magazine, after a series of financial debacles and billions in asbestos-related liability claims, Halliburton stock plummeted to $8.50 a share, and Wall Street worried about the corporation’s survival (Elkind, 2005). Halliburton’s fortunes changed dramatically with the onset of the “war of choice” in Iraq. Before the war, Halliburton was 19th on the U.S. Army’s list of utilized contractors; by 2003 it was number one. The company has been awarded at least $11 billion in government contracts since Bush took office (Mayer, 2004).

And Ray Hunt has become an even richer billionaire. In March of 2003 Halliburton stock was valued at $20.50 per share and by March of 2007 it was worth $64.12 per share (Rich, 2007). According to the Forbes list of the World’s Richest People in 2003, at the beginning of the Iraq war Ray Hunt was worth $2.3 billion (Forbes, 2003) and by 2007 his fortune had grown to $3.5 billion (Dallas Business Journal, 2007). Both Hunt and Halliburton have been winners in the Iraq war. To provide perspective, the $1.2 billion increase in riches in four years by Hunt is greater than SMU’s total endowment garnered since 1911.

So a $$35M$$ contribution to the library is about the same as you or I dumping 10 bucks into a Salvation Army pot at Xmas, but it was enough to buy Hunt another seat on the SMU board for one of his senior VP’s.

Jeanne L. Phillips, who was appointed as an SMU Trustee in 2004, was personally chosen by Ray Hunt as his senior vice president of corporate affairs and international relations in 2005 (Solomon, 2005).

According to her official U.S. Department of State biography, Ms. Phillips “served as Senior Advisor for National Finance in the Presidential campaign of George W. Bush, developing the original fund-raising plan and structure for the finance organization…” (U.S. Department of State, 2001). She was appointed Ambassador to France and Permanent Representative to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development by President Bush in 2001. She told the New York Times in 2005 that she had been a close friend of the Bushes since 1979 when she worked as a fund-raiser for George H.W. Bush. She postponed her wedding plans to chair the Bush 2005 presidential inaugural events (Solomon, 2005).

There’s lots more here – this is a significant piece of investigative reporting – and the totality does more than just suggest that a majority of the board has been put in place at SMU to make sure Bush’s propaganda center winds up there and remains under his total control. Which – if Rove is running it – will mean making the Nixonian secrecy of Hugh Hewitt’s Nixon Library directorship look like an open-door policy.

Hewitt, now a leading wingnut pundit and the recipient of acres of welfare from conservative foundations, set up the Nixon Library as a sort of twisted joke. (Via Hullabaloo)

The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda has long been the most kicked-around of presidential libraries, and nothing invited more ridicule than the dim, narrow room purporting to describe the scandal that drove its namesake from office.

Venturing into that room, visitors learned that Watergate, which provoked a constitutional crisis and became an enduring byword for abuses of executive power, was really a “coup” engineered by Nixon enemies. The exhibit accused Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein — without evidence — of “offering bribes” to further their famous coverage.

Most conspicuous was a heavily edited, innocent-seeming version of the “smoking gun” tape of June 23, 1972, the resignation-clinching piece of evidence in which Nixon and his top aide are heard conspiring to thwart the FBI probe of Watergate.

This was history as Nixon wanted it remembered, a monument to his decades-long campaign to refurbish his name. Nixon himself approved the exhibit before the library’s 1990 opening.

“Everybody who visited it, who knew the first thing about history, thought it was a joke,” one Nixon scholar, David Greenberg, said of the Watergate gallery. “You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

***

[F]rom the start, the library had trouble being taken seriously. Its first director, Hugh Hewitt, announced that researchers deemed unfriendly would be banned from the archives, singling out the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward as a candidate for exclusion. Scholars cried foul; Hewitt revoked the plan.

You can bet your bottom dollar and the farm that Bush Library Director Karl Rove won’t.

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