18 and Counting: Plum Ambassador Posts Go to Obama Campaign Bundlers

Patrick Goodenough | July 10, 2013 | 4:17am EDT
Font Size

President Obama has nominated Matthew Barzun, who served as his campaign finance chairman in 2008 and 2012, as ambassador to the United Kingdom. (AP Photo, File)

(CNSNews.com) – President Obama on Tuesday nominated two major campaign bundlers to two of the most prized ambassadorships available anywhere – London and Rome – part of a pattern that has seen him reward at least 18 top fundraisers with plum diplomatic positions since 2009.

The White House said the post of ambassador to the United Kingdom will go, subject to confirmation, to Matthew Barzun, an Internet pioneer and investor who served as the Obama campaign finance chairman in 2008, as ambassador to Sweden from 2009-2011, and then again as finance chairman for the president’s 2012 campaign.

The ambassadorship to Italy will go to John R. Phillips, a Washington lawyer who chairs the president’s commission that selects candidates to be White House fellows. Phillips is the husband of Linda Douglass, a former network journalist who served as communications director for the Obama White House’s Office of Health Reform.

According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, Barzun bundled at least $500,000 for the Obama campaign in 2008 and at least $500,000 again in 2012; Phillips bundled at least $500,000 for Obama in 2012 and between $200,000 and $500,000 in 2008.

Barzun is in line to take up the post vacated by Louis Susman, a retired Chicago investment banker who bundled between $200,000 and $500,000 for Obama in 2008, before being nominated as ambassador to the U.K. the following May.

Barzun and Phillips are the latest in a string of Obama bundlers to be nominated to ambassadorial posts.

Already serving are the ambassadors to Belize (bundled $100,000-$200,000 for the Obama campaign in 2008), Canada ($50,000-$100,000), Czech Republic ($200,000-$500,000), Finland ($500,000+), France ($500,000+), Japan ($500,000+) and Norway ($200,000-$500,000).

Joining them are the current U.S. ambassadors to the European Union in Brussels, and to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), based in Jakarta, both of whom bundled at least $500,000 each for the Obama campaign in 2008.

In addition, Obama has nominated another seven campaign bundlers to ambassador positions, in some cases replacing yet other bundlers who got the posts during his first term (including one who drew criticism during Obama’s re-election campaign with comments about anti-Semitism and Israel.)

Awaiting confirmation are Obama’s nominees as ambassador to Berlin (John Emerson, $100,000-$200,000), Brussels (Denise Bauer, $200,000- $500,000), Madrid (James Costos, $500,000+), Santo Domingo (James "Wally" Brewster, $500,000+), Singapore (Kirk Wagar, $500,000+), Vienna (Alexa Wesner, $200,000-$500,000) and the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva (Keith Harper, $500,000+).

Finally, Obama has nominated as ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford – not a campaign bundler, but his 2012 campaign finance director.

According to the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), giving ambassadorships to political appointees has been a common practice for presidents of both parties in recent decades.

AFSA says 187 (67.8 percent) of Obama’s ambassadorial nominations to date have been career diplomats, compared to 89 (32.2 percent) who have been political appointees.

AFSA figures for previous presidents are: George W. Bush – 30 percent political appointees; Clinton – 27.82 percent; George H.W. Bush – 31.30 percent; and Carter – 26.73 percent. It did not have figures available for President Reagan.

Political appointees tend most often to get coveted Western European and Caribbean stations, where 72 percent of all ambassador posts since 1960 have gone to them.

By contrast, only 14 percent of posts in Africa and the Middle East have gone to political appointees since 1960, and none to posts in Central Asia.

It’s a situation AFSA opposes.

“The United States is alone in this practice; no other major democracy routinely appoints non-diplomats to serve as envoys to other countries,” it says in a statement on its website.

“The appointment of non-career individuals, however accomplished in their own field, to lead America’s important diplomatic missions abroad should be exceptional and circumscribed, not the routine practice it has become over the last three decades.”

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 states that “positions as chief of mission should normally be accorded to career members of the Service.”

The legislation adds that ambassadorial nominees “should possess clearly demonstrated competence to perform the duties of a chief of mission, including, to a maximum extent practicable, useful knowledge of the principal language or dialect of the country in which the individual is to serve, and knowledge and understanding of the history, the culture, the economic and political institutions, and the interests of that country and its people.”

And, it says, “Contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor in the appointment of an individual as a chief of mission.”

mrc merch