The Red Cross: A Question of Competence | The Nation


The Red Cross: A Question of Competence

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Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute. The article was coordinated by Robert Parry, director of the fund's investigative team.

The Special Team

About the Author

Linda Heller
Linda Heller's writing on medicine and health has appeared in many national magazines.

The real power players at the Red Cross were not the board or the senior vice presidents but rather a small group that appears nowhere on the charity's organization chart, known as Elizabeth Dole's "special team." Although this group had no formal authority, she took no major decision without its approval and often sought its advice prior to consulting the members of her senior staff with operating responsibility in politically sensitive areas. Ostensibly an informal group, it had de facto veto power over matters of both policy and operations. At first her official staff assumed that the special group of advisers, mostly old political cronies, was "cushioning Mrs. Dole against political problems," as Buzz Braley, the former voluntary chairman of the Red Cross biomedical services committee and the president of Braley & Graham in Portland, Oregon, put it. Executives frequently derive much benefit from the use of informal consultants and advisers. But eventually a number of those who saw it in operation concluded that the real function of the special team was to vet Red Cross policies and programs with particular attention to their potential political fallout vis-à-vis Mrs. Dole's personal image and the Dole-for-President campaign.

The group, which sometimes convened in toto, sometimes in part, included two official staff members and three outsiders hired as consultants--all of them fiercely political supporters of Mrs. Dole. The insiders were Jennifer Dorn, the Red Cross senior vice president for policy and planning, who had been Dole's top aide at the Departments of Transportation and Labor before a brief stint as the director of strategic planning for Martin Marietta (it became Lockheed Martin in 1995) under chairman Augustine, and John Heubusch, the Red Cross vice president of communications, who recently left the organization to become executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The consultants included Mari Maseng Will, the wife of conservative columnist George Will, who has spent nearly her entire professional career working as a press officer and speechwriter for Republican Presidents (Reagan and Bush) or nominees. She has held a high-level position in all of the Dole-for-President campaigns, including the current one (until she recently resigned for personal reasons), and she also directed communications in Elizabeth Dole's Transportation Department. Two other members of the special team added as consultants were Michael Goldfarb, a private business consultant and the former chief of staff at the Federal Aviation Administration, and, less actively, Bob Davis, Mrs. Dole's private attorney and counsel for the Dole presidential campaign. Dorn, Will and Davis were all cited in the acknowledgments of the Doles' autobiography, The Doles: Unlimited Partners, written for the 1988 presidential campaign.

The practice of having the special team vet all policy decisions--not just for their public relations potential but for their political implications--is described by Manning Warren III, a professor of corporate law at the University of Louisville and a former member of the Red Cross board's international services committee: "Elizabeth has been virtually inaccessible to most people at the Red Cross," he observes. "If you tried to schedule a meeting with her, she'd have Jenna Dorn or Mari Will or one of her other screeners call to ask you for your agenda. Every meeting was carefully orchestrated, and she was always noncommittal when you asked her about a decision."

Staff members who were also on the special team, like Dorn and, to a lesser extent, Heubusch, derived extra clout from their dual roles and took on politically sensitive assignments beyond their formal authority.

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