The news item is something like "Bush nominates billionaire Roland Arnall to be Ambassador to the Netherlands. Arnall, the head of Ameriquest Capital Corp., co-chaired the second Bush inaugural, and Arnall’s wife donated $5 million to an ‘independent’ political committee that ran anti-Kerry attack ads during the 2004 campaign. Ameriquest is under investigation in 30 states for its mortgage loan practices – the company’s business focuses on ‘sub-prime’ mortgages, and it has long been accused of predatory loan practices that take advantage of low-income borrowers. Deval Patrick, the head of civil rights enforcement under President Clinton, forced it to pay $4 million to the Justice Department to settle charges of discriminatory lending."
"Ah," you say. "Another bazillionaire Republican hack who made his fortune taking advantage of poor people is now picking up the classic hack job – an ambassadorship. Sounds like business as usual at the Bush White House. I assume that the Dems will squawk about it, but not too loudly because really, who cares about the Ambassador to the Netherlands, and he’ll get through."
And you’d probably be right, though the nomination is stalled because of the 30-state investigation. The DNC says the nomination is evidence of more "corruption and cronyism," and John Kerry (not surprisingly) opposes the nomination. But here’s the weirdness: one of Arnall’s backers who wrote a glowing letter to the Senate on his behalf is the very guy who squeezed a $4 million settlement out of Arnall’s company: Deval Patrick.
Well, you see, Patrick joined Ameriquest’s board of directors in 2004, at Arnall’s invitation, and Arnall asked Patrick to write to the Senate on his behalf, so he did.
OK, look. I don’t reflexively hold people’s service for big corporations against them – I actually think it’s a good thing that a progressive sort like Patrick has worked for Coke and Texaco. Nor do I necessarily think he shouldn’t be on Ameriquest’s board – he says he was asked to join the board to help them clean up the mess that they were in, and that seems to be a perfectly reasonable explanation.
But this sort of "you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours" business is what makes people lose faith in politics. Maybe Roland Arnall really is the great guy Patrick’s letter makes him out to be, and maybe the company’s previous problems with predatory lending weren’t Arnall’s fault. (Then again, maybe they were.) But there’s no way for us to know that. And one finds it difficult to imagine that Patrick would have written this letter for Arnall if Patrick weren’t on Ameriquest’s board – after all, Arnall’s politics are about 180 degrees from Patrick’s, so why stick your neck out? Does their "friendship" (noted by Patrick in the Globe article) stem from some source other than Ameriquest’s board? Is Patrick compensated for his service to Ameriquest? (I have asked the campaign that question – no response yet.) How ’bout this: this guy Arnall obviously knows a lot about home mortgages. Would Patrick write the same letter for him if Bush nominated him to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, or does he only merit a personal recommendation for positions in the hackocracy?
Patrick told the Globe that "my support for this guy was not a political calculation." Well, that much seems clear.