It really isn’t all that unusual for presidents to hand out premium ambassadorships to some of their best buddies, and while there’s definite potential for seediness there, it isn’t necessarily always a horrible way of doing things. Host countries don’t generally tend to mind it if the president’s chosen ambassador has ability to easily reach the ear of the president of the United States directly, rather than having to go through all of the normal and top-heavy bureaucratic channels.
During President Obama’s tenure, however, the usual practice seems to be growing increasingly transactional as the implied price tag of these comfortable first-world ambassadorships has gotten higher and higher — and career diplomats and State Department types are getting more and more perturbed about it. The Hill took a look at the exact whos, whats, whens, wheres, and whys of Obama’s ambassadorial appointments, and according to their analysis, the president has handed out at least nineteen coveted positions to campaign contributors and political allies in 2013 alone:
Nominations to plum postings have gone to no fewer than eight bundlers, six of whom raised more than $1 million for the president’s reelection campaign. The president has also given prized ambassadorships to key fundraising staffers, including the head of his 2012 finance operation. …
Internal financial documents obtained by The New York Times suggest the price per post is also at an all-time high, although apples-to-apples comparisons aren’t possible because precise figures aren’t available for previous administrations.
The amounts raised by the eight bundlers in 2011-2012 ranged from $2.36 million by Women for Obama Finance Chairwoman Denise Bauer to $477,000 from Los Angeles entertainment attorney and Michelle Obama Princeton classmate Crystal Nix Hines. The two women have been named to serve as ambassadors to Belgium and UNESCO, respectively, while other bundlers have been tapped for service in the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, the Dominican Republic, Singapore and Austria.
Another bundler, Democratic National Committee National Finance Chairwoman Jane Stetson, is rumored to be in line for the top diplomatic post in Paris, perhaps the most prestigious ambassadorial position of them all. Stetson raised $2.43 million for Obama. …
Retired JPMorgan Vice President Azita Raji, Obama’s second biggest bundler, at $3.15 million, is a top choice for ambassador to Switzerland.
And Caroline Kennedy, daughter of John F. Kennedy and a lifelong Democratic activist, is the heavy favorite for ambassador to Japan.
And etcetera. More than 32 percent of president Obama’s handpicked ambassadors for these European capital and more destination-y outposts have gone to political appointees rather than professional ones, according to the American Foreign Service Association, versus 30 percent under G.W. Bush and less than 28 percent under Clinton. Perhaps the rising prerequisite fundraising abilities are just the way it’s going to be, given the record amounts of campaign cash President Obama raised, but… just sayin.’
Matthew Barzun, a business executive, served as US ambassador to Sweden until 2011, when he took the position as Obama’s finance chairman. If confirmed for the London post, Barzun would replace Louis Susman, another Democratic fundraiser, who stepped down earlier this year.
Obama is also nominating John Phillips, who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the 2012 presidential campaign, to be the US envoy to Italy and the Republic of San Marino. …
Barzun and Phillips are the latest in a long string of Obama fundraisers and former campaign operatives to be given plum diplomatic postings in recent months – many of them in European capitals. Last month, Patrick Gaspard, a former White House aide and top Democratic party official, was nominated to be the US ambassador to South Africa and Rufus Gifford, who headed Obama’s 2012 finance operation, was named as US ambassador to Denmark. Obama also chose major fundraisers for postings in Spain and Germany.
I’d imagine Anna Wintour will be rather put out.