What Does It Cost To Be an Obama Ambassador?

Feb 7, 2014 6:53pm

Upwards of a half a million dollars.

That’s what more than half of President Obama’s second-term political appointments raised for his re-election campaign, according to data gathered from the American Foreign Service Association and the Center For Responsive Politics.

Rewarding donors and political allies with ambassadorships is nothing new, but Obama vowed to buck the tradition, promising shortly after he was elected to “have civil servants, wherever possible, serve in these posts.”

“My expectation is that high quality civil servants are going to be rewarded,” he said in a January 2009 news conference.

In fact, Obama has rewarded political supporters plum ambassadorships more than his predecessors. So far, 37 percent of Obama’s appointments have been political, compared to 30 percent under George W. Bush and 28 percent under Bill Clinton.

In his second term, Obama has named more political than career appointments, 39 versus 36. Twenty of his political appointments raised more than $500,000 for his 2012 campaign.

The administration today defended the practice.

“Over the course of history, there have been many, many ambassadors who have come from outside of the career paths who’ve been very successful,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told ABC News. “There are many who have been very successful serving in these roles in countries around the world, and that’s part of the reason why this will continue.”

Fundraising aside, the qualifications of Obama’s big bundler nominees are being called into question after several of them flopped their confirmation hearings. The question and answer sessions were so embarrassing, it may give future presidents pause about continuing the tradition of rewarding donors with diplomatic posts.

Noah Mamet, Obama’s choice for ambassador to Argentina, it turns out, has never set foot in the country. “I haven’t had the opportunity yet to be there,” Mamet revealed when he appeared Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I’ve traveled pretty extensively around the world, but I haven’t yet had a chance.”

In a hearing last month, George Tsunis, the founder, chairman and CEO of Chartwell Hotels, bungled basic facts about Norway, where he has been tapped to serve as ambassador.

Tsunis, who copped to never having been to Norway, described the country, a monarchy, as having a president.

And Colleen Bell, a soap opera producer, who has been nominated for ambassador to Hungary, had a hard time identifying the U.S. strategic interests in the central European country.

 

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