Some post-Expo transparency shall shine on the USA’s inexplicable pavilion secrecy.

My interest in reporting and blogging any further on the USA pavilion at Expo 2010 [Shanghai World's Fair] ranges from none at all to zero. The Expo is over, and the consequences – if any – for how the founders of the pavilion conducted themselves in the course of securing, funding, designing, and promoting the pavilion is in the hands of others. But, then again … this weekend I received copies of some of the USA pavilion’s federal tax forms from 2008 and 2009. I had no interest or intent in posting them, but then, at the end of the 2009 filing, I found this:

Please note that the organization – officially Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc [SE2010] – was commissioned by the US State Department to design, build, fund, and operate a USA pavilion at Expo 2010. If the State Department itself had done it, the governing documents, conflict of interest policy, and financial statements would have been – by law – available to the public. But, for reasons I won’t go into here, it wasn’t run by State. In any case, the State Department, the Beijing Embassy, and the Shanghai Consulate apparently saw nothing objectionable in hiding from the American people, how money, raised and spent in their name, was being spent.  This is precisely the kind of secrecy – totally unnecessary, over-the-top secrecy – that makes organizations like wikileaks so valuable and necessary. So, in that spirit, I’m going to make available for upload/viewing SE2010’s Form 990s from 2008 and 2009. Right-click them to download; otherwise left-click and they’ll appear in a form you can read them at Shanghai Scrap.

SE 2010 Inc. 2008 990

SE 2010 Inc. 2009 990

I should be clear: there’s nothing confidential or secret here. These are publicly available documents – a person just has to go through the trouble of getting them. So consider this post my gift to Shanghai Scrap’s readers: you no longer have to go through the expense and trouble of getting them. Now, a warning: there’s no obvious smoking gun here. These documents span a period that ends in late summer 2009 – before most of the money associated with the pavilion had been raised and spent. Still, there are a couple of item that stick out, the most glaring being the US$367,830 on legal in 2009 (Part IX, line 9b). Ellen Eliasoph, a co-founder and director of the pavilion, is also a partner at Covington & Burling – the official legal services provider for the USA pavilion. In other words, as a partner in Covington & Burling, she personally benefited from the money spent on those legal services – which may be one reason that SE2010 didn’t want its conflict-of-interest policies and financials made public.

But whatever. Have a look for yourself, let me know if you see anything, and I’ll be back at you with what promises to be a much more interesting batch of 2010 tax filings whenever they become available next year.

End of Expo: DeluxZilla offers some thoughts

Starting today, we’re going full-tilt at Shanghai Scrap covering (sort of) the End of Expo 2010. What this means, exactly, I’m not sure. But I do think that – even if the rest of the China-based foreign correspondent corps won’t cover it (more on that shortly) – the end of the largest World’s Fair ever (size, attendance, etc etc) merits some attention. So we’ll start with a brief emailed Q&A that I conducted over the weekend with Zachary Franklin, author of the DeluxZilla blog. By day, Mr. Franklin is an M.A. student inl economics at Fudan – that is, when he’s not busy covering the Expo for the European Union wire service at the Expo. Indeed, during the Expo, Franklin has written – as of last count – 88 wire stories (subsequently picked up news agencies worldwide), and that has to be a record for a foreign correspondent at this event. A compendium of those stories can be found here, here, and here. Below, Mr. Franklin and Prince Albert of Monaco, at the Monaco pavilion (a/k/a Prince Albert in a Pavilion].

Nevertheless, despite all those wire stories, it’s Mr. Franklin’s blog that sets him apart. Posts like Going Through the Expo Garbage, Expo Fouls Up Three Month Party, and Fighting the Coke Man provide/d readers with a totally unique and informed insight into the life of this Expo; I’d say it was invaluable if you had any interest, professional or otherwise. I’d be remiss, too, if I didn’t mention, that Mr. Franklin once took me to task for my coverage of the USA pavilion (coverage like this). Alas, we’ve never met in person (my fault), but I’m assured by several mutual friends that the blogger is a total mensch. So, without further ado, a few Expo-related questions for Zachary Franklin, aka DeluxZilla: Continue reading

Student Ambassadors: the USA (and its Expo 2010 pavilion) at its very best.

My first visit to the USA pavilion happened a few days after it officially opened. It was a quiet evening, and the large crowds of recent weeks hadn’t yet materialized. I didn’t have to wait long in line, and after only a few minutes I was ushered into the lobby where I watched two young Americans make announcements – and joke – to a Chinese audience transfixed by their linguistic and cultural fluency. A few minutes later we were ushered into a movie theater where – just as in the lobby – a young American warmed up and joked with the crowd. The last theater was home to the true star of the show (if you ask the Chinese audience), a stocky young American, no more than twenty-three, I think, who worked the five-hundred audience members like a stand-up comedian. After the film, they rushed up to him with cameras, questions, and curiosity.

As I left the pavilion, I raved to my companion about how the young Americans I’d just seen – officially, they are members of the USA pavilion’s Student Ambassador program – are precisely who and how I would want the USA to represent itself at Expo 2010 (the Shanghai World’s Fair). Entrepreneurial. Optimistic. Well-educated. Young. Open to China and other cultures. Sense of humor. Sense of integrity.

My companion raised a brow at me and, knowing that I’d long been critical of the USA pavilion, challenged me to write something complimentary about the Student Ambassadors on Shanghai Scrap. That seemed reasonable and so – then and there -I accepted the assignment, and at the first available opportunity I asked Martin Alintuck, then the pavilion’s Communications Director (and now the President/CEO of the pavilion), if he’d be willing to help me do it. Alintuck agreed right away.

And so, without further ado, allow me introduce Shanghai Scrap’s readers to Ryan Lovdahl, 23 and Katie Sirolly, 22, two members of the first class of eighty student ambassadors selected to work at the US pavilion until mid-July (a second class of eighty ambassadors will overlap them by a week or two and serve until the end of the Expo on October 31).

Katie and Ryan are both recent University of Delaware graduates. Though University of Delaware doesn’t have a Chinese language major, it does have a foreign language requirement, and the two of them both chose Chinese. Along the way, they showed an aptitude for the language that resulted in both being selected for year-long scholarships at Beijing Language and Culture University, paid for by the Chinese government. Ryan spent two years at BLCU; Katie spent one. Afterward, both sought out additional opportunities to study, travel, and work in China. And so, in 2009, when the Student Ambassador program, was announced, both jumped at the opportunity to apply. Continue reading

USA Pavilion President/CEO Nick Winslow Resigns

Late Tuesday afternoon the USA Pavilion at Expo 2010 (World’s Fair) announced that Nick Winslow, one of two founding partners of the non-profit that manages the pavilion, and its CEO and President, has resigned. He will maintain a seat on the pavilion’s board. The complete press release can be found after the page jump, below.

To note: the press release gives no reason for Winslow’s resignation. However, regular readers of this blog are aware that serious allegations have been raised about potential conflicts of interest between Winslow and the USA pavilion’s chief contractor, BRC Imagination Arts of Burbank, California; that such conflicts may, in fact, place the USA pavilion’s tax-deductible non-profit 501(c)(3) status at risk; that – on this basis and several others – at least one complaint against the USA pavilion has been filed with the Internal Revenue Service; and that, when questioned about these issues, Winslow provided me with a bizarre set of contradictory and highly legalistic answers. Are these issues the reason for Winslow’s resignation? I’ve just emailed a set of questions to a contact at the USA pavilion in hope of sussing out some answers; if I receive those answers, I’ll add them to this post (or, depending upon their usefulness/newsworthiness, write a new one). In the meantime, for those readers interested in background on the USA pavilion, recent questions surrounding Winslow, and – most important – supporting documents (including documents obtained from the IRS) regarding Winslow’s questionable professional relationships – see these posts:

For those interested in additional information about the USA pavilion, including the murky circumstances under which it was awarded to Winslow by the Bush State Department, see Shanghai Scrap’s USA Pavilion category, and “A Sorry Spectacle,” my March 2010 piece for Foreign Policy.

[UPDATED 6-10: This morning Will Clem of the South China Morning Post has a good story about the Winslow resignation and the questions that still revolve around Winslow and the USA pavilion, here (subscriber only). So far, and to its considerable discredit, the US media in Shanghai appear uninterested in covering the USA pavilion - on this issue, or any other.]

I’ll have more to say about this major development if and when I receive additional information on it. After the page jump, today’s carefully worded press release from the USA Pavilion. Continue reading

Conflicts of interest at the USA Expo 2010 Pavilion? Nick Winslow responds, legalistically.

[A brief note: this week is going to be the final week of the All Expo, All of the Time theme that's taken over Shanghai Scrap. We have non-Expo posts planned for next week, and we're going to like doing them. But, for this week at least, a few loose ends to tie up before moving back into prior and new beats. Of course, Expo won't be leaving our thoughts entirely - we have some items that we'd still like to explore over there - but I think a solid month of exclusive Expo blogging is quite enough. Anyway, back to the Expo blogging.]

Loose end #1. Potential conflicts of interest at the USA pavilion, and a response from the pavilion’s president. [fair warning: this is going to get long and technical; for US pavilion wonks, only.] Continue reading

Hillary Clinton on the USA Pavilion @ Expo 2010: “It’s fine.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stopped by the USA pavilion at Expo 2010 (World’s Fair) this morning and, according to numerous media outlets (among them, the New York Times and the Washington Post), had this to say when asked her opinion about the USA pavilion which she was instrumental in building/saving: “It’s fine.”

Not great. Not spectacular. Not even good. Just plain old “fine.”

To be clear: responsibility for the uninspiring design and programming of the USA pavilion does not belong to Clinton, but rather to Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc, a non-profit organization designated to design, build, and fund the pavilion by the Bush State Department (with the steadfast, key, and ongoing support of the leadership of the US Consulate in Shanghai). For those members of the media looking for additional details – including names named – on how the United States ended up with what the Washington Post’s John Pomfret suggests “resembles more a convention center in a medium-size American city than a showcase for the United States,” I direct you over to this helpful ‘Reporter’s Guide to the USA Pavilion‘ and “A Sorry Spectacle,” my March 2010 summation of the situation at Foreign Policy magazine. Further information can be found under this blog’s Expo 2010 – USA Pavilion category.

[Addendum: Both the New York Times and the Washington Post quote Frank Lavin, Chair of the USA Pavilion's Steering Committee, in their reportage from the Clinton visit. This is unfortunate. In June 2009, at a point when the USA pavilion non-profit was nearly broke, Lavin - a former ambassador to Singapore under George W. Bush - publicly claimed that the US Congress had adopted a resolution in favor of his non-profit organization's effort to build a pavilion at Expo 2010. However, Congress did no such thing, and Lavin's statement was quickly retracted - though without apology to the pavilion's donors, much less, Congress (Shanghai Scrap's coverage of this disreputable moment in USA pavilion history, here). In the wake of his lie, Lavin disappeared from public view. Many - including me - hoped that - in the interest of his and the pavilion's dignity - he wouldn't reappear. Too bad that he did.]

The Gun Almost Smokes, Pt. II: Potentially serious conflicts of interest at the USA Expo 2010 pavilion.

For more than a year, the USA pavilion at Expo 2010 has been shrouded in inexplicable secrecy. To this day, for example, the State Department won’t reveal the process by which Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc [SE 2010] – the non-profit it authorized to design, fund, build and manage the US pavilion – was selected; who and how a Canadian architect was chosen to design the US pavilion; or, for that matter, release a detailed budget on how SE 2010 was spending its $61 million in tax-deductible contributions. Unfortunately, the first two questions are still mysteries: the State Department, SE 2010, and the US Consulate in Shanghai have been obstinate in their refusal to answer questions on these matters. However, the last question – a detailed budget – received a partial answer last week when I published a cost estimate that SE 2010 had filed with the IRS in June 2009.

Readers will recall that the IRS documents indicated that SE 2010, Inc was spending US$23 million for the three short films that are featured in the USA pavilion (a sum that exceeds the cost of 4 of the ten Academy Award nominees for Best Picture). No surprise, the producer of the three films – BRC Imagination Arts of Burbank, California – is, according to the June 2009 IRS documents, the pavilion’s top-paid contractor [click to enlarge].

In the above document, BRC is promised US$10 million for Production Design/Fabrication; according to individuals associated with two other national pavilions, that $10 million most likely folds into the $23 million for “show construction & installation” in the cost sheet. In any case, no other contractor is listed in the IRS filing; BRC is the largest. Continue reading