Obama Outdoes Previous Presidents in Appointing Campaign Donors to Ambassadorships

Monday, March 03, 2014
George Tsunis

It turns out that The Road to Morocco started at an Obama campaign office. So did the roads to Norway, Argentina, Iceland and other sites of U.S. embassies around the globe.


President Obama has nominated a higher percentage of campaign bundlers to ambassadorships than any recent president. Since January 2013, 48 of his 85 ambassadorial nominees have been political appointments rather than career Foreign Service employees. Twenty-four of those nominees have been prominent fundraisers for Obama’s presidential campaigns, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Most recently, the president’s appointments for Argentina, Iceland and Norway drew fire because the nominees to those posts hadn’t visited the countries in question and in some cases appeared clueless about their politics and government structure.


Partly as a result, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) has developed Guidelines for Successful Performance as a Chief of Mission. The guidelines are offered as “a useful reference for those participating in a confirmation hearing but should augment, not replace, existing guidelines in the 1980 Foreign Service Act,” Robert Silverman, president of the AFSA, said Tuesday. “In recent weeks, we have seen a highly politicized environment, so these can be seen as a tool to move away from the rhetoric and gotcha” tactics, he said.


The Foreign Service Act of 1980 says “An individual appointed or assigned to be a chief of mission should possess clearly demonstrated competence to perform the duties of a chief of mission, including, to the maximum extent practicable, a 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.”


It goes on to say “Contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor in the appointment of an individual as a chief of mission.”


AFSA, according to The Washington Post, is expected to decide shortly whether to oppose three nominees of three individuals who were big bundlers for Obama: Colleen Bell, for Hungary; George Tsunis, Norway; and Noah Mamet, Argentina. The only previous time the organization opposed a nomination was in 1993, when it opposed President Bill Clinton’s nomination of Larry Lawrence to be ambassador to Switzerland. Lawrence did serve in the post.


White House spokesman Eric Schultz told the Center for Public Integrity, “Our nominees have a mix of sterling academic credentials, years of public service and private-sector experience that make them eminently qualified for the positions to which they were appointed....We appreciate the report and look forward to reviewing it.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

What Makes a Good U.S. Ambassador? (by Michael Beckel, Center for Public Integrity)

See the Ambassadorships Big Money can Bring (by Michael Beckel, Center for Public Integrity)

Obama Nominees for Ambassador Posts may Face Opposition from Foreign Service Group (by Al Kamen, Washington Post)

Foreign Service Group Wants to Raise the Bar on White House Nominees (by Charles S. Clark, Government Executive)

Obama Rewarded Almost 200 Campaign Donors with Government Jobs and Contracts…Just Like George W. Bush Did (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Obama Appoints More Friends and Donors to Ambassadorships than Did Bush, Clinton and Even Reagan (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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