Pay to Parlez? Obama Names Donors to Swank Ambassador Posts

Critics decry "unchecked" system that gives posts to "unqualified" individuals

ByABC News
May 28, 2009, 1:05 PM

May 28, 2009— -- President Obama yesterday continued the time-honored tradition of awarding plum diplomatic posts to major campaign donors and supporters.

Among the first ambassadors named are some of his presidential campaign's most aggressive fundraisers, including Silicon Valley moneyraker John V. Roos, and Obama National Finance Committee member Louis B. Susman. The two men helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Obama's White House bid, and many thousands more for his inauguration.

Obama yesterday tapped Roos to serve as U.S. ambassador to Japan, while Susman will be the U.S. emissary to Great Britain. Roos does not speak Japanese, but Susman is fluent in English, the White House confirmed.

Good government groups and others have long criticized the practice of rewarding supporters with plum diplomatic posts. The American Foreign Service Association, which represents career diplomats, calls it an "unchecked spoils system under which scores of political activists are tapped for critical national security positions for which they are unqualified."

AFSA notes that historically, about 30 percent of ambassadorships go to political picks over career State Department personnel. The group endorses capping such political, "non-career" ambassadorships at 10 percent.

"Since President Obama's campaign was inspired by a commitment to change instead of business as usual, now is the time to end the spoils system that receives criticism both at home and abroad," the group said in a recent statement. AFSA notes that the United States is virtually alone among democratic nations in sending such men and women abroad to represent it.

Obama said in January he would place career diplomats in ambassadorships "wherever possible," but noted "there probably will be some" political appointees picked also. "It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that there are not going to be some excellent public servants but who haven't come through the ranks of the civil service."

Of the dozen ambassadorships the Obama White House announced Wednesday – among the first of his term -- six went to Obama campaign fundraisers, advisers or volunteers.