Vote No On Wyclef Jean: Why the Former Fugee's Run For the Haitian Presidency Is Totally Misguided

Wyclef Jean opens NASDAQ on the six month anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. Photo via Yele Haiti.
Wyclef Jean opens NASDAQ on the six month anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. Photo via Yele Haiti.

So it's official: Wyclef Jean is running for the Haitian presidency. The former Fugee confirmed the news to the New York Times last night; later today, he's expected to go on Larry King Live and make it official. In between, he'll fly to the still earthquake-torn country and register with the Haitian Elections Board. The election to replace the outgoing, not particularly effective René Préval will take place on November 28th. Hopefully, not a single person in the country will vote for Jean.

This should be obvious: he's a musician, not a politician. What little experience Jean does have running an organization that doesn't include Lauryn Hill and Pras has mostly involved Yele Haiti, the well intentioned but administratively catastrophic charity that raised $9.1 million in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti--money it had no infrastructure, experience, or premeditated plan to dispense. But since Jean's bid is being taken seriously--both in and outside the country--we felt compelled to come up with a list of reasons why you shouldn't vote for him. Sorry 'Clef, but this is ridiculous:

He doesn't pay his taxes. This is the Smoking Gun's latest of many scoops relating to Jean's tax problems. Previously, Yele Haiti got in trouble for filing their taxes years late. Now it's Wyclef's turn. The Smoking Gun reports that "In May, the IRS filed a $724,332 tax lien against Jean. Last July, the agency filed a $599,167 lien against the performer. And a $792,269 lien was lodged against Jean in July 2007." Do the math: that's $2.1 million he owes the IRS. Now, this is basic civics: should a guy who's running for the presidency of any country on the planet either be disorganized enough to fail to pay taxes, or worse, be disinclined to pay his taxes? It's not like government runs on anything else. Except for maybe The Score royalties now?

He can't run his own charity, let alone an entire country. The Yele Haiti Foundation incorporated in 1998, and filed its first tax returns in August 2009--for a mere three of those 12 years. Even then, records showed that organization, which typically ran at a deficit, had directed at least $400,000 of its scant funds back into Wyclef's pockets, including a $100,000 payment to the musician for performing at Yele's own benefit concert. (The organization also bought $250,000 worth of airtime on a network Jean and a partner owned a controlling interest in.) In the aftermath of the earthquake, Gawker's John Cook took a closer look, finding that Yele had all of one employee working "out of the kitchen in Jean's Manhattan recording studio" at a time when millions of dollars were pouring in that needed to get to Haiti ASAP. As a source told Gawker: "There are groups you can give to right now that have already spent the money before they received it...Yele Haiti is just not set up for a huge campaign like this." Is this the man you want running Haiti?

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Haiti needs a miracle worker. The earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12th killed 300,000 people. The Inter-American Development Bank puts the cost of recovery at somewhere between $7.2 billion to $13.2 billion. Port-au-Prince was shattered and has yet to be meaningfully rebuilt. They still haven't figured out a workable way to get all the orphaned children there to better circumstances. The country needs Barack Obama, FDR, JFK, and Winston Churchill rolled into one visionary man or woman. Not a dude who set his own guitar on fire at Woodstock 1999.

Experts in Haiti already don't want Jean to run. Though the Times reports real excitement in Haiti at the news that Wyclef is running, they also quote the director of the Haitian Platform to Advocate for Alternative Development as saying: "It's a catastrophe...It's a reflection of the weakness of the political class of Haiti that the system is at the mercy of a mediagenic person who flies in from abroad." (Here's an even more damning account of how Jean fits into the disfunctional Haitian political scene.) Look, we elected a former mediagenic entertainer to the presidency of the United States, too--but at least he'd been a governor of one of the biggest states in the union first. Plus how well did Reagan work out for us, anyway?

For his part, Wyclef knew there'd be haters. Yesterday he told the Times: "People will say, 'Man, Clef, what does he know about politics?'", adding: "All I know is I'm a natural leader, and I will surround myself" with top-notch policy experts.

This is a garbage argument. Every president of every country should be a natural leader. Every president on the planet should hope to retain top-notch policy experts. Every aspiring president should also have some level of demonstrable experience successfully serving the people of the country which he's hoping to lead. Yele Haiti ultimately did good in that country but it would be a disaster for Haiti were it to be run like Wyclef Jean runs Yele. And beyond that, what can Jean point to? The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book?

It's admirable that Jean wants to help. And he can! People need to be aware that the recovery effort in Haiti is far from finished. That recovery effort needs a charismatic leader in America and abroad, where there is so much more money than there is in the comparatively poverty stricken Port au Prince. Wyclef can be that leader. He can spread that awareness. What he can't do--what it's irresponsible for him to even propose doing, given his dismal financial and administrative track record--is actually govern a country in need. Or any country at all, for that matter. Wyclef Jean Confirms Plans to Run for Haitian Presidency [NYT]


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