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Obama donor named ambassador

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009

President Obama criticized the foreign takeover of the famous American brewery Anheuser-Busch last year, saying, "We could have and should have done everything possible to find an American buyer."

Now he's chosen as his ambassador to Argentina a longtime member of the St. Louis-based company's board of directors, who reported a big windfall on the transaction after the board approved the sale of the maker of Budweiser, Busch and Michelob to a European rival.

California lawyer Vilma Martinez, an Anheuser-Busch board member for more than two decades, received $4.8 million in stock options and deferred compensation with the sale of the brewery to Belgian-Brazilian InBev, according to a recent public filing.

Ms. Martinez is one of several political supporters picked by Mr. Obama for ambassadorships in recent months. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Ms. Martinez has given nearly $10,000 to Democratic lawmakers and their causes over the years, including at least $1,900 to Mr. Obama.

The White House first announced her nomination in May, noting her past work with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the NAACP, among other positions. But officials left out any mention of her service as Anheuser-Busch director from 1983 through 2008.

The White House and Ms. Martinez did not respond to questions about her association with the beer company or her role in approving the sale to InBev, the very transaction Mr. Obama criticized on the campaign trail. The State Department referred an inquiry to the White House.

In addition to stock and deferred compensation, Ms. Martinez disclosed receiving $147,800 in board fees from Anheuser-Bush, as well as $361,044 in salary from the Munger, Tolles & Olson law firm, where she is a partner.

She has served on several corporate boards, reporting $92,250 in board fees from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.; $135,000 in fees from Fluor Corp.; and $35,700 in board fees from Bank of the West.

According to the ethics filing, the compensation includes money paid out last year through the middle of last month.

Ms. Martinez described the $4.8 million she received from Anheuser-Busch as "pre-tax" and "deferred income and stock option payout on sale of company," according to her government ethics filing.

Mr. Obama came out against the InBev deal last year, saying Anheuser-Busch should remain under U.S. ownership. It would be "a shame if Bud is foreign owned," he said. After the sale went through, Mr. Obama told reporters he was "disappointed to learn that Anheuser-Busch has agreed to be sold to InBev," calling the company "an American icon." He also warned that the sale could "threaten thousands of jobs in Missouri."

InBev had been a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch for several years. The new company is now known as Anheuser-Busch InBev - and ranks as the world's largest brewer.