Presidents have used the foreign service as a patronage system for decades, perhaps all the way back to the earliest years of the US. Barack Obama promised to end the influence of the rich, though, in his “Hope and Change” campaign. Jake Tapper reports that thus far Obama appears to like patronage systems as much as any other President, having appointed 19 ambassadors who contributed almost $5 million in the aggregate:
If all goes according to plan, Colorado businessman Vinai Thummalapally will soon be moving to a Central American tourist paradise to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Belize.
Thummalapally was President Obama’s roommate at Occidental College in 1979. As Barbara and Vinai Thummalapally described it to the Colorado Springs Gazette, they “used to party with (the president) in college. He was the guy who’d drink a few beers, maybe take a toke, stay up until 4 a.m. then excuse himself to crank out an ‘A’ paper due that morning. … He was Barry, the mellow guy in the leather jacket, dragging on a cigarette.”
Of course, friendship only goes so far in the world of ambassadorships. It’s Thummalapally’s fundraising for — not partying with — President Obama that is more characteristic of his fellow ambassador nominees. The Coloradan bundled between $100,000 and $200,000 for the Obama campaign and has personally contributed $13,375 to Mr. Obama’s various campaigns since 1999. And according to Federal Election Commission records, Thummalapally’s “not employed/student” children Vishal and Sharanya donated $2,300 and $2,275 to the president.
The information comes from the Center for Responsive Politics, which in a recent study concluded that the president’s new nominees for ambassadorships to Belize, Belgium, Liechtenstein, Romania and Switzerland “brought in at least $1.1 million for Obama’s presidential bid as bundlers, and at least another half-a-million as bundlers for his inauguration. To date, this brings the contribution histories of Obama’s ambassador nominees to roughly $1.8 million in donations since 1989. The 19 ambassadors that CRP has found in our campaign contribution database, along with their spouses and children, have given more than $98,200 to Obama personally, bundled at least $3.4 million for his 2008 presidential run and bundled another $1.4 million for his inauguration.”
Again, every President uses the foreign service to reward big contributors, Republicans and Democrats alike. It’s nothing new, but it’s also not “hope and change,” either. Tapper and ABC report that Obama hasn’t been the worst President in terms of foreign-service patronage, but that he’s also got a number of positions left to appoint, too.
Don’t expect too much pushback from Republicans on this point, for all of the obvious reasons.