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One Toke Over The Line: University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies To Grant George W. Bush an International Service Award: Part Four of an Open Series

July 22, 2013

bush-worst_president_ever

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Links:

Part One of the Series

Part Two of the Series

Part Three of the Series

Part Five of the Series

Part Six of the Series

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1.

In an email from a recent D.U. alumni from Oregon, who as an undergrad majored in International Studies, a former student wrote me:

“I felt quite outraged, even though I have been quite removed from the Denver community since graduation. Mostly it just seems so wrong that the university administration acts with such an extreme disconnect from the students it is supposed to be serving.”

Since the news broke that George W. Bush would be the recipient of an award at the upcoming Korbel Dinner, an annual fund-raising affair, I have many such protest emails, telephone calls. The message repeats itself: how could the university stoop so low, or something to that affect. Is there no limit?

A private university like the University of Denver essentially gets its funding from three sources: tuition, foundation and government grants and donors. So many private universities over the past decades have `gone under’, lost their funding base and gone out of business. The University of Denver is not one of them. It has not just managed to survive, but these last decades it has managed to transform itself into something better – academically and otherwise – than it was previously.

But now it appears that there are small cracks in the wall.

For the first time in years there are suggestions that enrollment is slowing. The donor base both real and potential is shifting…but then the donor base is always shifting and this is nothing new, except now it is shifting to the far right of the political spectrum. Giving George W. Bush a humanitarian, or service award – or however the university wants to spin it – is little more than a novel, if cynical, way to tap into this shifting donor base at a time of a certain jitteriness over the university’s financial future – solid as it currently appears.

The Bush invitation is a sign that the university is willing to `go the extra mile’, put financial considerations ahead of ethics, and that it is not in the least averse to courting the country’s extreme right wing – at least that portion of it that is floating in wealth and power. It is not so much that by giving George W. Bush a service award that the University expects contributions from the Bush family to start flowing in – possible, but highly unlikely – but that honoring the man who launched two major wars, condoned torture, opposes women’s reproductive rights, considers Darwin’s theory of evolution as the source of evil and propelled the world into a global economic recession just might impress certain regional Republican donors to consider doing so.

That so doing adds to the stench of academic McCarthyism in the air doesn’t seem to bother some in the university community in the least.

The rule is simple: follow the money and find a way to make the university attractive to potential donors. If that means playing to the political tastes of some of the most ultra-conservative – but filthy rich – people in the region, so be it. It’s not even a new way of doing business, just how a private college or university is run, a tradition certainly not unique to the University of Denver. Still, one has to wonder? Are there any ethical limits to which a university is willing to go in order to attract donors? The Bush award suggests that the answer appears to be `no – there are no limits.’

The problem with all this has several aspects to it. To appeal to such potential donors they need to be given `signs’ – one of which is that the place really isn’t a hotbed for political liberalism or radicalism. What better way than to invite George W. Bush to speak and give him – and thus his political orientation – legitimacy? Another consideration results from the fact that many (but not all) of the emerging gazillionaires in the Western region (one needs to think beyond the state of Colorado here) are of the ultra-right assortment.

More and more those with hefty bank accounts in this part of the country have moved to the far right of the Republican Party. Many of them are ultra-conservative in perspective, strong supporters of the war on terrorism abroad and equally adamant opponents of government regulation of corporate and financial institutions at home. Call them `neo-cons’. They are among Scott Walker’s strongest backers in Wisconsin. In Wyoming, there is a grouping of them that cling to Dick Cheney’s coattails and are already pouring in the big money to fund Liz Cheney’s  (Dick’s daughter) U.S. Senatorial bid; here in Colorado they include several what-I-would-call’ `shyster developers’, hedge fund managers, etc. They represent– an untapped or poorly tapped source of funding. There are others. [i]

2.

Let’s explore a small portion of the University’s fundraising effort, the role and connections of Board of Trustee Scott Reiman. In later pieces we’ll prove other elements of the regional ruling class, a sorry bunch in all.

It is not only the Bush invitation which is hanging over the University of Denver’s reputation. A few other issues have broken in the news of late. University of Denver Law School Professor Lucy Marsh, a long time faculty member with a distinguished record is suing the school, claiming gender based wage bias.  In an unrelated matter, D.U.’s Board of Trustee member and former chair of the Trustee’s investment committee, Scott Reiman, was fined by the SEC something a little less than a $1 million for insider trading.

In a settlement with the SEC, Reiman, himself a former (2006) Korbel Dinner Humanitarian award winner, `admitted no wrong doing’ but paid the penalty as a result of the SEC’s investigation of illegal insider trading of Delta Petroleum stock in 2007, just before billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian was on the verge of buying into the company. Delta’s board of directors includes Hank Brown, former U.S. Senator from Colorado, current president of University of Northern Colorado, who comes out of the Monfort meat packing industry.

Curious.

In a similar case of a member of a university trustee involving insider trading in Ohio in 2005, the culprit was not only fined, but received a five year prison sentence. Not only did Reiman escape indictment over the Delta Petroleum insider trading incident – several others involved didn’t – but the blow of the fine was somewhat softened by the D.U. Board of Trustees. The board did its own internal inquiry into the SEC allegations, defining the charges against Reiman as “circumstantial” – whatever that means. If the SEC found enough grounds to fine Reiman, the Board of Trustees considers Reiman almost blameless. In what comes off as more of a statement of class solidarity than the conclusion of an impartial investigation, the Board’s investigation concluded:

“We (The Board of Trustees) recognize that it is inappropriate to conclude, from an SEC settlement of this nature, that Mr. Reiman has violated a law or even been guilty of unethical conduct.”

Let us leave aside for the moment the validity of the Board of Trustees investigating itself, and move to the results. Reiman resigned as chairman of the board’s investment committee, but remains an active member of the Board of Trustee.

It turns out that one of Reiman’s closest friends and associates is Roger Parker, former C.E.O of Delta Petroleum. Dubbed `Mr. Fast Lane’ by some who know him well, Parker is the son of a New Mexico federal judge. As one friend put it “but for Roger, Scott (Reiman) would be little more than a middle level manager at an Iowa tool company.”

Reiman’s case is especially interesting and deserves a little more elaboration as he has been a key person in D.U.’s fundraising efforts. As chair of the Board of Trustee’s Investment Committee he was, of course, heavily involved in finding donors. As will be discussed, his contacts tend to be on the ultra-conservative side. It is not clear how his SEC fine will impact his fund-raising for the university, but it can’t help. The impression that Reiman is yet another Horatio Alger success story, a shrewd investor, is off the mark. He got by with a little help – or maybe more than a little help – from `dad’.

Scott Reiman is the son of Roy Reiman of Greendale, Wisconsin, a Milwaukee suburb. Roy Reiman is the founder of Reiman Publications, a Midwest publishing magnate who made his fortune publishing 14 magazines, among them `Our Iowa’ and books targeting farm families and rural life. A graduate of Iowa State University, that he still supports, Roy Reiman became fascinated with both farm life and food.

An unlikely source of great wealth perhaps, but the elder Reiman built a vast and lucrative magazine empire all the same. He became something akin to a `Martha Stewart’ to a certain niche and built a fortune through hard work targeting farming communities with glossy (and often interesting) magazine, books, cook books.  In 1998 Roy Reiman sold his majority interest in Reiman Publications to Madison Dearborn Partners, a Chicago investment firm, for $640 million. Reiman sold his remaining interest in 2002 to the Readers’ Digest Association.

What to do with $640 million (plus whatever profits came from the Readers’ Digest sale)? Roy Reiman, already getting on in years at the time, and in need of a place to park the lion’s share of that money, essentially founded Hexagon Investments and got son Scott to run it. Roy Reiman is on the board, more than likely is the company’s major investor with son Scott being something akin to a front man running the company.

Scott Reiman connects in one way or another (albeit vaguely) to Colorado power brokers Norm Brownstein and Steve Farber. Reiman recently served on the board of Prospect Global Resources with Norm Brownstein’s son, Chad Brownstein. Hank Brown, former U.S. Senator from Colorado, lawyer for the Monfort Interests and long close to Brownstein and Farber (they were in the same college fraternity at C.U. Boulder) served on the board of Delta Petroleum whose stock Scott Reiman got insider info on.

The University of Denver ruling elite, with its intense interest in donors, proceeded to invite Scott Reiman to serve on the Board of Trustees. The university’s finance school, a part of the business school, carries Scott Reiman’s name on it.

Papa Reiman – like his son – is a quiet but substantial backer of right wing causes. Roy Reiman and his wife have been one of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s most ardent supporters and strong financial backers. Walker is the Wisconsin governor known mostly for cutting social services and trying to undermine collective bargaining for public employees. A regular supporter of Republican Party causes, The elder Reiman contributed $33,000 to help support Walker survive the effort to unseat him in a recall election.

Roy Reiman finds himself in the same circles as Foster Friess, Wyominig multimillionaire and major backer of Rick Santorium’s presidential bid. Friess pumped a cool $2 million into Santorum’s campaign, money that helped Santorum win the Iowa primary and boost his presidential bid. An idea of Friess’s thinking on reproductive rights can be gleaned from the statement he made during the 2012 presidential campaign:

“During the campaign, Friess created a controversy when he joked that “back in my days … gals put [Bayer aspirin] between their knees” to prevent pregnancy.”

Like Friess, both Reiman Publications (which Papa Reiman owned and ran) and Hexagon Investments (which son Scott founded and where he serves as president) are on a list of companies that have contributed $5000 or more to Walker’s campaign chest and that Walker’s opponents ask people to boycott. Scott Reiman’s politics, like his father’s are staunchly Republican. Most recently Scott Reiman, through Hexagon Investments, contributed to the Republican National Committee, to Mitt Romney’s presidential effort and Joe Coors’ unsuccessful 2012 US Senate bid.

Another close Reiman contact is Melvin Sembler, a real estate magnate and strip mall developer, a generous contributor to Republican Party causes, most especially those with a neo-conservative tinge. According to Opensecrets.com, Sembler has donated more than $500,000 to rightwing political causes since 2009. Sembler is very close to former Vice President Dick Cheney and his family.


[i] The Democrats too have their gazillionaires, although not as many; here in Colorado it seems that different multi-millionaires essentially run the Democratic Party, although oddly, the base of Colorado’s Democratic Party is increasingly delightfully populist and fractious – where it comes to its party leadership.

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