The Oregonian




Oregonian Leads List For Ambassador


Financier Charles J. "Butch" Swindells is the top contender for the New Zealand and Samoa position, sources say




By Andy Dworkin of The Oregonian staff

Monday, April 23, 2001



Charles J. "Butch" Swindells, an Oregon financier and philanthropist who helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect President Bush, is in line to become the next U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa.


The post is traditionally one of many political appointments that go to a president's friends, political allies or major donors, instead of lifelong foreign-service workers.


The Bush administration has picked Swindells, 58, a U.S. Trust executive, as the top candidate for the New Zealand and Samoa job. Those countries will comment before a final decision is made, government officials said.


"We have received the note from the American government that they would like to appoint him (Swindells)," Samoan Secretary of Foreign Affairs Moses Sua said Sunday.


Sua said the island nation, which sits west of American Samoa, will research Swindells and probably decide whether to approve the choice in the next week.


"We don't expect anything but to approve him," Sua said. "We (just) haven't got around to doing it."


Political sources in the United States and New Zealand, who asked not to be named, confirmed Swindells' selection. Officially, both countries declined to comment. Protocol dictates that the Bush administration be allowed to make the announcement.


"We don't speculate on any type of personnel announcements before they're made, and we don't comment on the candidates," White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said. "For the sake of their own privacy, of course."


Swindells said Sunday, "I have been asked by the White House -- and I have to abide by their wishes -- to make no comment."


David Lewis, a spokesman for New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, said he cannot confirm any nomination. But The Dominion, the morning newspaper in Wellington, New Zealand, reported that the government there has already approved of Swindells.


It has been an open secret for days that Swindells was being considered for an ambassador job in some country. Kerry Tymchuk, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), said that Smith "values Butch as a close friend, and was working very hard with the Bush administration to get him an appointment, whenever it might be."


The last ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa was former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, a friend and political ally of Bill Clinton.


Political experts said many close U.S. allies, such as England, France and New Zealand, prefer to have such people appointed as ambassadors because they have high-level political links, and are often more able than a career diplomat to directly influence the president.


But some campaign finance reform advocates criticize making big donors ambassadors, saying the practice could be seen as buying an ambassadorship.


Swindells did help fill Bush's coffers during his candidacy. As co-chairman of Bush's Oregon campaign finance committee, he organized a $1,000-a-head cocktail party with Bush in 1999. The event raised $377,000, thought to be a record at the time.


At that party, Swindells said he had been "a fund-raiser for the family" of political Bushes, which he called "great stock."


Swindells donated the maximum $1,000 allowed under election rules to Bush in both 1999 and 2000. His wife also donated $1,000 to Bush last year. All told, Swindells gave $43,000 to Republican candidates and causes last year, including $20,000 to the Republican National Committee.


Swindells has been a major donor to state and national politicians for years. He frequently has pledged money to Republican candidates, from Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood to Gordon Smith. But he has also given to Democrats, including Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, and to political causes, such as the Oregon League of Conservation Voters.


A finance executive, Swindells makes money by helping wealthy people and companies invest their money. He co-founded Capital Consultants Inc. in 1969 with Jeffrey Grayson. He later co-founded Capital Trust Co. as a subsidiary of that company. He and partners bought it from Capital Consultants in 1985. In 1993, they merged with U.S. Trust Co. of New York, the oldest trust company in the United States.


He also has given money and time to a wide array of civic groups. He is chairman of the board of trustees at Lewis & Clark College, where he led a $76.5-million capital campaign. He also is on the boards of several hospitals, two colleges at Portland State University and several charities. He has raised money for local schools, including Jesuit High School and St. Mary's Academy.


Samoa is a group of South Pacific islands about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. About 200,000 people live on its two main and seven smaller islands. The residents speak Samoan and English and elect a parliamentary government.


In New Zealand, which is roughly the same size as Oregon, 3.8 million people live on 103,700 square miles of land. The country, which consists of two main and several smaller islands, is a parliamentary democracy and part of the British Commonwealth.


At England's urging, New Zealand seized Samoa from German control during World War I and administered the smaller nation until it claimed independence in 1962.


You can reach Andy Dworkin at

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