When we first read that New York Times article about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s support of the USA Pavilion effort here in Shanghai, something didn’t sit quite right with us. It’s not that the facts didn’t seem correct or anything – but almost no mention was made about why Clinton stepped in to raise money in the first place. Wasn’t there already a group of people meant to do that?
According to the story, Clinton has had to battle both the worries of government lawyers (why is the nation’s chief diplomat asking for money?) and the huge amount of money needed to be raised in such little amount of time to do her good deeds:
This time, the cash-starved beneficiary was not her own campaign but the United States, which needed $61 million to finance the construction of a national pavilion at a world’s fair in Shanghai. Under federal law, no public money could be used for the project. And Mrs. Clinton, as a federal official, could no longer solicit private financial donations herself.
So she turned to her well-established network of Clinton fund-raisers, and after negotiating with the State Department’s lawyers about what she could legally do herself to support the project, she mounted an ambitious fund-raising campaign that has netted close to $54 million in barely nine months.
In short, Clinton gets the goods by opening her Rolodex, changing stratagem for convincing corporate sponsors (by going from “patriotism!” to “hey, did you notice how big the market in China is?”) and infusing her own friends/supporters into the USA Pavilion staff. But wait! That’s just one part of the story, and to us not even the most interesting. As Adam Minter of Shanghai Scrap points out:
Let’s be clear here: the reason that Clinton had to become involved at all is because the private group authorized to design, build, and fund-raise the pavilion had – by early 2009 – shown themselves to be completely incapable of accomplishing what they’d been authorized to do by the State Department. Barboza and Landler blame this failure on the economic crisis, the Olympics, the US election and State Dept restrictions prevented a solid effort.
But what they don’t acknowledge is that – by early 2009 – the members of the USA Pavilion, Inc [the legal entity is known as Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc] had alienated a vast swatch of the expatriate business community in Shanghai (“arrogant” and “abrasive” are common adjectives used in regard to the members of USA Pavilion, Inc), numerous potential US corporate donors, and even high-ranking members of the Chinese government.
Granted, that’s just name calling. And while our limited interactions with the guys (and mostly, gal) responsible for the USA Pavilion have also garnered the same feeling, that’s still not what actually worries us about this effort. Nope, this is what worries us:
a) The constant misrepresentations by Shanghai Expo 2010 Inc. about where they got their funding and support, leading to endless confusion about the US’ participation before the pavilion even broke ground.
b) The fact that a Freedom of Information Act had to be filled just to get the action plan of the USA Pavilion team. No, it hasn’t been fulfilled yet. Why so secretive about a frickin’ pavilion, guys?
c) That in the face of this, the first real news piece to come out in so many months was a puff piece about how Hil sure is awesome.
But it seems like even if the New York Times is content sitting on their laurels and wowing at the Clintons’ ability to raise money, other entities in the States are beginning to investigate. Minter says the State Departments’ Office of Inspector General is now requesting a looksee at the “US Pavilion process over the last three years.” Meanwhile, two “media organizations… have looked into improprieties related to the USA pavilion.”
As for us, we’re eagerly awaiting a similar huffy email from Shanghai Expo Inc. for this post as the one we got for questioning why other people were throwing their names into the USA Pavilion ring back in April.