Obama far outpaces predecessors in appointing donors to foreign posts
Didn't he promise during his first campaign that donors and lobbyists would not be part his administration? Obama taps top fundraisers, bundlers for ambassadorships
Published July 20, 2013
Just six months into his second term, President Obama has nominated a slew of campaign donors and fundraisers for ambassadorships.
These nominations include major bundlers Denise Bauer and a Los Angeles entertainment attorney Crystal Nix Hines.
As of last month, Obama had given 32.2 percent of ambassadorships to political appointees -- almost identical to his first term rate and slightly higher than those of recent predecessors in the long-held tradition of presidents rewarding big-time financial supporters.
The number compares to 30.02 percent under George W. Bush, 27.82 percent under Bill Clinton and 31.30 percent under George H.W. Bush, according to the American Foreign Service Association.
The president has nominated 19 people for ambassadorships in the second term including at least eight bundlers, according to The Hill newspaper.
The 2011-2012 amounts range from $2.36 million by Bauer, chairwoman of the Women for Obama Finance, who would go to Belgium, to $477,000 from Hines, who would represent the United States at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.
Other bundlers have been named to serve in Austria, Germany, Singapore, Spain, the Dominican Republic and the United Kingdom.
But much of the attention remains focused on who will get two of the remaining top posts -- France and Japan.
According to The Hill, Democratic National Committee National Finance Chairwoman Jane Stetson, who raised $2.43 million for Obama, is in line for the coveted Paris post, which would knock out Vogue editor-in-chief Anne Wintour, who raised $2.68 million and purportedly wanted either the London or Paris diplomatic positions.
Beyond Wintour, the most talked about potential ambassadorship is Caroline Kennedy to Japan.
Kennedy, daughter of President Kennedy, certainly has the political pedigree and ranks among the president’s biggest fundraisers and political supporters. However, critics argue that her lack of experience in elected office makes her a risky choice as Japan remains a crucial ally in trying to maintain stability in the Korean Peninsula.
Still, Dartmouth government professor Jennifer Lind argues Kennedy’s stature give her extraordinary access to the president and that her father’s “unconventional ” decision in the 1960s to appoint Harvard professor Edwin O. Reischauer to the Tokyo post “helped knit … two countries once dismissed as impossible allies.”
The Foreign Service union, while not directly criticizing Kennedy or Obama, told FoxNews.com this spring that it does not support such appointments and that the rate of political appointees to ambassadorships for Japan and major European countries is as high as 85 percent.
“The sale of ambassadorships and rewards for political support basically suggests we really don’t value diplomacy,” said then-union President Susan Johnson.
Other major Obama bundlers being considered by the president in his second term include retired JP Morgan executive Azita Raji, who reportedly raised $3.15 million and is Obama’s top pick for ambassador to Switzerland.http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/07/20/obama-taps-top-fundraisers-bundlers-for-ambassadorships/#ixzz2bDltaLNF
Published February 10, 2014
President Obama has taken the art of naming donors and other politically connected chums as ambassadors to a new level, despite pledging in 2008 to shake up Washington's back-scratching ways.
A string of gaffes by some of his recent nominees has thrust the Washington practice of appointing donors to foreign posts back into the spotlight. The administration faced difficult questions from the press last week, for instance, after Obama's nominee to Argentina admitted he'd never been there.
But a look back at how Obama's appointments stack up to those of his predecessors shows it's not just business as usual -- if anything, the current president is using diplomatic gigs to reward bundlers and contributors seemingly more than ever.
The American Foreign Service Association, which tracks ambassadorial appointments, has found that in Obama's second term, more than 53 percent of these appointments were political. Less than half have come from the career Foreign Service pool.
"Obama is pushing the envelope," Christian Whiton, former State Department adviser in the George W. Bush administration, told Fox News.
The United States is just about the only major democracy that still uses diplomatic posts to routinely reward political friends. Historically, less than a third of these appointments have been political in nature. Under former President Bill Clinton, 28 percent were political; under former President George W. Bush, that number was 30 percent.
Under Obama, the number has climbed to 37 percent overall. By the time he leaves office, it could well be higher.
Though this is a bipartisan practice, the performance during confirmation hearings of some of Obama's latest picks has raised concerns that the United States may be sending the wrong message abroad.
"Sending donors to be ambassadors -- not that uncommon," Whiton said. "Sending them that have no idea what they're doing or about the regions they're going to, that is new."
The administration stresses that it's too early to say, especially based on scattered confirmation hearing performances, how these nominees would do in their jobs.
"I would encourage people to give those who have had tougher hearings a chance to go to their countries and see what their tenure will entail," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday. "And the judgment can't be made about how effective they'll be or how appreciated they'll be by the government until we have that happen."
She noted that many esteemed U.S. ambassadors have come from outside the Foreign Service career path, including former Vice President Walter Mondale in Japan, and Sargent Shriver in France.
But the question now is whether Obama's picks are coming into their jobs with little connection at all to the country they would represent.
Obama's nominee to Norway, George Tsunis, had a few cringe-worthy moments during his hearing last month. During the hearing, he at one point referred to Norway's president, though the country is a constitutional monarchy. He also downplayed the importance of the country's Progress Party but was sternly reminded by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that the party is part of the center-right coalition government there.
"I stand corrected," Tsunis responded.
Colleen Bradley Bell, a soap opera producer nominated for ambassador to Hungary, also recently struggled to answer what America's strategic interests are in that country.
The exchanges have riled foreign policy experts.
"The Obama administration's appointments suggest that the president isn't being honest when he says that diplomacy is important to him," Henri J. Barkey, Lehigh University professor and former State Department policy staffer, wrote in The Washington Post. "... it's illogical, and insulting, to presume that Norwegians are such wonderful and civilized people -- and hence unlikely to cause any problems with Washington -- that we can afford to send someone on a taxpayer-funded three-year junket to enjoy the fjords."
Some of the prime candidates for appointments, historically, have been bundlers -- people who gather sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for the president.
A FoxNews.com review shows that Obama has appointed at least 44 of these so-called bundlers since taking office. That's almost as many as Bush appointed in his full two terms.
The positions awarded to these individuals have remained roughly consistent. Plush posts in western European countries, the Caribbean, and places like Singapore and Canada, often go to the politically connected. France, Great Britain, Germany and Italy are just a handful of the most sought-after jobs. The Japan post, too, is occasionally used to reward political supporters, including most recently Caroline Kennedy.
Tracking by The American Foreign Service Association shows that in some less-popular locations, the ambassador posts for decades have always gone to career diplomats. Armenia, Bangladesh and Mongolia, among others, since 1960 have never had a political donor appointed to serve there.http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/02/10/obama-far-outpaces-predecessors-in-appointing-donors-to-foreign-posts/