A front page article in Sunday's New York Times raises some important questions about how cultural heritage policy is made in the United States that deserve further investigation. The article explores close ties between Hillary Clinton and Goldman Sachs including during the period Mrs. Clinton was Secretary of State. That discussion highlights the Clinton State Department's partnership with Goldman Sachs' 10,000 women initiative.
While it is no doubt a good program, what is relevant for our purposes here is that this initiative is run by former Bush Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Dina Powell. Powell and her State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs are not popular with coin collectors for good reason.
In May 2007, Powell rejected the U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee's recommendations against import restrictions on Cypriot coins. Then, according to a declaration signed by Former CPAC Chair Jay Kislak, State Department officials went on to mislead Congress and the public about CPAC's true recommendations in official reports. That decision changed long-standing U.S. Government policy against import restrictions on coins, and provided the "precedent" for further restrictions on certain coin types from Iraq (2008), China (2009), Italy (2011), Greece (2011), Bulgaria (2014), and Syria (2016).
In CPO's view, Powell's 2007 decision at a minimum raises an appearance of conflict of interest. Critically, Powell made the decision after accepting her high level job with Goldman Sachs but before leaving the State Department. At the time, Goldman was apparently heavily involved in arranging controversial credit swaps with Greece and likely had at least some business dealings with Cyprus too. Of even more concern, it has since come to light that Powell was recruited by John F.W. Rogers, Goldman's powerful chief of staff, where she serves as part of his "lobbying team." This is relevant to cultural heritage issues because Mr. Rogers is married to Deborah Lehr, an AIA Trustee and international business consultant, who also serves as President of the Antiquities Coalition, a well-funded archaeological lobbying group.
So, perhaps it's no surprise that the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has actively participated in Antiquities Coalition events, such as its recent "Culture Under Threat" conference in New York City.
Of course, the point of these conferences is to drum up support in Congress for measures sought by the archaeological lobby. So, it also should be no surprise that the Antiquities Coalition has successfully lobbied Congress to clamp down on illicit antiquities (efforts which the trade and collectors see as grossly over-broad and hence damaging to the legitimate trade and collecting).
What's also interesting is that the Antiquities Coalition lobbying efforts are part of a partnership with the Middle East Institute and this work has been done to support repatriation efforts sought by authoritarian Middle Eastern governments like that of Egypt.
What's less clear is whether all this effort also directly or indirectly benefits the financial interests of those involved, i.e., is lobbying on cultural heritage issues of interest to countries like Greece, Cyprus and Egypt being "leveraged" to promote other business interests?
CPO commends all interested in expressing their views on cultural heritage issues, but given the amounts of money that the Antiquities Coalition must be spending on its efforts and all the contacts that are being worked,there should be far more transparency about the Antiquities Coalition's funding, its aims and details about its public-private partnerships with countries like Egypt.