By Al Kamen
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The mystery is solved. Thanks to a devoted Loop Fan, we now know that the host of Friday's $1.4 million Republican National Committee fundraiser at the famed Beresford co-op in New York -- headlined by President Bush -- was none other than Paul Singer, the hedge fund billionaire and renowned "vulture capitalist."
Singer, a mega-donor for Republicans and conservative causes over the years, has pumped out more than $2.6 million in contributions over the past decade, according to a records search, to folks such as John McCain, Tom DeLay, Mitch McConnell, Christine Todd Whitman and dozens of others. He was a big promoter of Rudy Giuliani's late presidential campaign and gave $5,000 to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth back in 2004.
Singer also has been one of the top money guys for Progress for America, an ostensibly independent political committee that promoted Bush's policies and political agenda, giving, all told, $1.5 million. The only Democrats on Singer's favored list seem to be Chuck Schumer and Bill Bradley.
So why should the White House or Republican National Committee not want to advertise that Singer was the host of such a fabulous luncheon -- 70 folks at $20,000 a pop?
Maybe it's his media nickname, "vulture capitalist," coined because his firm buys up debt held by Third World countries at a discount, then sues them to force repayment in full, sometimes for even more than the original amount.
Singer has said that buying "sovereign distressed debt" in such places as Peru or Congo serves the purpose of requiring countries to comply with contracts and that the countries can afford to pay but refuse to do so. Besides, it's less than 2 percent of his 31-year-old, $9.8 billion hedge fund.
But what would Bush's other friend Bono, the rocker and African debt-relief activist, who has strongly criticized such transactions, say if he knew?New Erasure Head Crowned
And now, the winner of the National Security Archive's fourth annual Rosemary Award, named for President Richard M. Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods, and her magnificent stretch, which caused that "accidental" erasure of 18 1/2 minutes of a key Watergate tape.
This year's winner -- and it wasn't a close call -- goes to the Treasury Department, which Archive Director Tom Blanton hailed for bringing "a new meaning to the notion of subprime performance" in its handling of Freedom of Information Act requests.
Instead of answering the requests, Blanton said, Treasury just keeps asking people if they still really want the information and often "actually destroys the original request letters the way [Woods] erased the tapes." One Archive request is 21 years old.
A 1997 Archive request asked for information about the Clinton administration's certification that Mexico was working against drug trafficking. Treasury responded in 2001, 2004 and 2007, but only to ask if the Archive was still interested in the information. The agency has sent the Archive 74 such "Are you still . . .?" letters for 42 different requests in the past seven years.
The agency also asked for another copy of the request because the original had been, a la Woods, "destroyed." (Blanton said that's something the agency has done 42 times for other requests.) And Treasury then closed the file without taking action, because so much time had gone by that the stuff had been retired to the National Archives, which Blanton said often happens.
The award, a framed photo of the Woods stretch, will be sent to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, rounding out a particularly fine week for him.Anyone Want to Run This Joint?
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are knocking down a rumor that FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison is leaving in the next couple of weeks. The rumor had simmered among people who had heard him talking privately about his frustrations running the troubled agency.
Then last week he was a no-show for a scheduled speech at the National Emergency Management Association midyear conference here.
A former DHS official says: "Folks have had to talk David out of leaving, including the White House. They've asked him to stick around. He's tired, he's worn out. . . . Every time he thinks they've turned the corner, something else has popped up." The White House "would like him to stay until the bitter end if possible, certainly through hurricane season. . . . But he has been disillusioned."No? Should We Bring Brown Back?
Speaking of FEMA, its external affairs shop (EA) -- especially the public affairs folks -- has gotten a bit of bad press. Morale has plummeted; the team is on a losing streak.
But not to worry! The EA Morale and Teambuilding Group is determined to turn this around and wants to know what its colleagues think. So it has sent around a survey. Please, get your answers in as fast as you can.
Most questions aren't difficult. For example: "Are you familiar with the goals and priorities of FEMA?" Just answer yes or no. "Do you know what the goal of EA is?" A good question.
Another question tests your "level of morale," ranking it from 1 ("I don't believe in the goal of EA nor do I believe in the people I work with") to 5 ("I believe strongly in the goal of EA and have full confidence in the people I work with"). The survey wants to know how people feel about agency resources, training opportunities, rewards and what "activities outside the workplace" you'd like to take part in "with . . . co-workers."
Listed suggestions include a birthday club, bowling, miniature golf, "Brown Back Lunch" and, our personal favorite, "Happy Hour."
Finally, "what do you think is the most important step FEMA EA can take to improve morale?"
Clean up New Orleans? Hold retreats in formaldehyde-laden trailers? Stop conducting surveys?Smurf City, Here We Come
Seems "smurfing," also known as trying to hide misdeeds by keeping bank transactions below the $10,000 reporting threshold, is the latest craze among government officials.
Last week there was former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, allegedly smurfing to hide his payments for a high-priced hooker.
Three weeks ago, Richard T. Race, who had been chief of staff to Pentagon Inspector General Claude M. Kicklighter and before that deputy inspector general for investigations, copped a plea in federal court in Alexandria to doing the same thing -- "structuring cash transactions to evade reporting requirements."
The case involved $20,000 he'd received for selling a car. Race cleverly deposited $9,000 in cash on a Wednesday, $9,000 the next day and $2,000 the day after in order to evade the law.
Not so cleverly, he put it all in the same federal credit union account, and worse, told a bank teller that he intended to "avoid generating a report to the government, which he believed could result in a tax being assessed" on the transaction, according to a court document.
Now Race is looking at a max of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 when he's sentenced May 2. The feds have already grabbed the 20 large.
Maybe that's why there have been so few Defense Department procurement fraud investigations.