Who wants to be a
millionaire U.S. ambassador?
posted at 5:11 pm on February 1, 2013 by Erika Johnsen
There is a long and rich tradition of U.S. presidents awarding cozy and glamorous diplomatic posts to their friends, allies, and donors, but as with many other dubious and/or nefarious political “business as usual” practices that go on within the historic halls of the White House, the Obama administration only ever seems to have only taken things up a notch.
The NYT reports that the competition for ambassadorships is so tight this year, and President Obama’s reelection fundraising was so rife with mega donors and bundlers, that it likely means prospectives will have to have amassed upwards of a million dollars for his campaign to even be considered in the running — and there’s a new study that puts a theoretical “cost” on the most choice posts and ambassadorships.
Not surprisingly, the authors found that politically connected ambassadors, including former aides as well as donors, were statistically more likely to be posted to countries in the Caribbean, North America and Central America. But those whose political connections to Mr. Obama were measured in dollars, rather than administration service, had an increased chance of representing the United States in Western Europe, and a markedly smaller chance of serving in, say, Central Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. The study found that political ambassadors who had made campaign donations of $550,000, or bundled contributions of $750,000, had a 90 percent chance of being posted to a country in Western Europe.
And what do these postings “cost?” Ambassadorial appointments do not, of course, come with price tags. But by combining information on what current ambassadors contributed along with data on the desirability of the ambassadors’ host countries, Dr. Fedderke and Dr. Jett arrived at “implied prices” for a selection of highly sought positions. …
When isolating a country’s wealth over other factors, Luxembourg came in at the top of the chart, with a posting there valued at $3.1 million in direct contributions, while an appointment to Portugal was predicted to have a value of $602,686 in personal contributions. The model suggests that bundlers can get the same posts for less: Portugal was valued at about $341,160 in bundled contributions, Luxembourg at $1.8 million.
As ViaMeadia explains, the longstanding practice of appointing friends to ambassadorships isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but President Obama does appear to be all about the dollars:
But before OWS and the Tea Party join forces to tear this system down, it’s important to understand that in many countries having a “political” ambassador as opposed to a “professional” one is actually something they want. The theory is that if the president appoints a close friend to represent America in your country, you will have better access to the White House. A professional diplomat can call his bureau in the State Department; a well-connected political appointee can go a lot higher than that.
Theoretically… But the system seems to be coarsening, with the buying and selling of embassies becoming more transactional. President Obama probably doesn’t even remember the names of all the people who gave or bundled hundreds of thousands of dollars to his record-setting re-election campaign. These rich ambassadors don’t always have the political access that people overseas think they have.