No Credit Limit

MBNA king Al Lerner adds "spy scout" to his résumé.

From Hell
The Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board advises the President on the quality of America's spy services. It would seem a critical role, given the rash of scumbags blowing up buildings these days. Which has The Edge wondering why Cleveland banker Al Lerner was recently appointed to this august body.

Lerner is, of course, the owner of a most masculine football team, and chairman and CEO of MBNA, which had $380 million in net income in the last quarter alone. Unfortunately, a gift for accumulating money does not an intelligence expert make. Lerner's company bio doesn't even mention previous work as a CIA mailroom clerk.

So The Edge called the National Security Advisor's Office and asked, "Hey, what gives with this guy's credentials?" The White House couldn't readily explain the appointment. And calls to Lerner and MBNA were not returned.

Yet Steven Weiss has a theory. He works for the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that studies the links between politicians and campaign contributions. "It's pretty common practice for presidents to appoint generous contributors to advisory posts and ambassadorships," he says. "It's a form of payback."

Lerner distinctly falls into the sugar-daddy category. In June 2000, he gave $250,000 to the Republican National Committee. Since 1992, MBNA has forked over more than $1 million to Republican groups. (It's also coughed up $300,000 to Democrats, just to cover the odds.) And that kind of jack can buy some serious admiration from the White House, credentials be damned.

"It does raise concern about the quality of people who are chosen," says Weiss. "Really, the strongest qualifications these people have is their ability to give money. They don't necessarily have any experience in the area they're chosen to serve."

He may be overstating the case. As a credit-card baron, Lerner could offer young terrorists easy credit at high interest rates, which would allow them to run up huge bills at the Mall of Kabul, at which point they'd be forced into seclusion by the world's most vicious army: bill collectors. And if Lerner donates another million, he could supersize up to supreme commander of NATO.

So the next time you're concerned about terrorist nutbags, fear not: Mild-mannered banker Al Lerner is on the job.

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