Who Gets to Have Tea with the Queen?

Newsweek counts eight ambassadorships handed out to $100,000-plus donors since January. Add in Bush’s appointee from Friday, billionaire Roland Arnall, and that brings us to a Big Donor Appointment Rate of one every 24 days. Billionaires, get your bids in now.

Roland Arnall paid in at least $600,000 to President Bush’s causes to earn him an ambassadorship to the Netherlands, but where did he get all that money? Should he have the Ambassadorship — or should it go to the people his company is accused of cheating?

Mr. Arnall is the CEO of Ameriquest, a company under investigation in all 50 states for preying on families in financial trouble. The company is charged with cheating people out of their homes — plain and simple. On Feb 5, the LA Times told some of the stories. One woman describes how “Ameriquest employees tricked her into signing a mortgage that required her to pay $2,494 a month, more than she earns cleaning houses.” All the negotiations were in Spanish, but all the loan documents were in English — a language in which she’s not proficient. “‘The only thing she ever got from Ameriquest that was in Spanish was a foreclosure notice,’ said her lawyer.” A widow explains that company employees qualified her and her late husband for a loan “by fabricating documents showing that he earned $6,800 a month as proprietor of Knox Music Academy. At the time of the loan, the suit says, [her husband] was 79 and suffering from terminal cancer. The music school never existed,” and the couple never knew about the falsified mortgage documents. Now the lawsuits are multiplying. The Federal Trade Commission, state attorneys general, and even former employees of Ameriquest have challenged the company. The president of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, denounced the company as a collection of “slimy mortgage predators.”

Drowning in lawsuits and investigations, on Friday Ameriquest set aside $365 million to settle claims in 30 states — the same day that President Bush rewarded CEO Arnall with an ambassadorship.

When billionaire car dealers or manufacturers pay for ambassadorships, at least they pay with money earned by selling something of value. How much of Mr. Arnall’s money came from cheating hard-working families, families who were trying to scratch their way out of poverty and into a home, families who turned to refinancing when dad lost a job or mom got sick, and families who answered an advertisement that promised to help them lower their monthly payments — only to get cheated?

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If Mr. Arnall paid $600,000 for an ambassadorship, why not make that part of the settlement? Why not let some of the people who lost their homes, who paid hidden charges and inflated prices, and who stripped their savings and borrowed from friends in order to keep making those monthly payments to Ameriquest get a piece of the action? Why not let them take a turn as Ambassador-for-a-Day? After all, when ambassadorships are for sale, why shouldn’t the people who really put up the money get their chance to have tea with the Queen of the Netherlands?

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