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Name: Emerson, John
Current Position: Ambassador

President Barack Obama is sending a major campaign contributor and volunteer to serve as U.S. ambassador to Germany, continuing a time-honored and bipartisan practice. John B. Emerson, who is president of Capital Group Private Client Services, is an attorney and longtime Democratic Party donor and activist. If confirmed by the Senate as expected, Emerson would succeed Philip D. Murphy, who has served in Berlin since August 2009 and was also a political appointee. 


Born circa 1954, John Bonnell Emerson was raised mainly in the New York City suburbs of Bloomfield, N.J., and Larchmont, N.Y. Emerson’s father, James G. Emerson, was a Presbyterian minister and his social worker mother, Margaret Bonnell Emerson, was the daughter of prominent Presbyterian minister John Sutherland Bonnell, who was one of the first public figures to challenge Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s (R-Wisconsin) anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s.


Deciding against a career in the ministry in order “to seek my own path,” Emerson earned a BA in Government and Philosophy at Hamilton College in 1975 and a JD from the University of Chicago in 1978. A lifelong Democrat, Emerson also got involved in politics during college, participating in anti-war rallies and volunteering for Democratic Sen. George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign.


Relocating to Los Angeles after graduating law school, Emerson practiced law at the Manatt, Phelps & Phillips law firm, specializing in business and entertainment litigation and administrative law and rising to partner. He also served as chief deputy and chief of staff in the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office.


Continuing to be politically active after moving to California, Emerson played prominent roles in several campaigns, usually for moderate Democrats. He served as general counsel for Jerry Brown’s 1982 U.S. Senate bid; as California chairman of Sen. Gary Hart’s presidential run in 1984; and as deputy national campaign manager for Hart’s 1986-1987 presidential bid.


Emerson has even run for office himself. He nearly won a campaign for a seat in the State Assembly from the Silver Lake-Echo Park area in 1991, losing by only 31 votes, but refusing to request a recount.


Emerson finally backed a winner in 1992, when he was Bill Clinton’s California campaign manager. He was rewarded with a White House job, serving from 1993 to 1997 as deputy assistant to President Clinton. He coordinated the Clinton-Gore transition team’s economic conference in 1992 and served as the President’s liaison to California in the aftermath of the January 1994 Northridge earthquake.


After leaving the Clinton administration, Emerson joined the Capital Group Companies, one of the world’s largest investment management firms with assets of about $1 trillion under management.


A wealthy man, Emerson has donated $225,000 to Democratic candidates and organizations since 1992, and bundled donations from others for Barack Obama to the tune of at least $500,000 in 2012. 


Emerson has served as the chairman of the Music Center of Los Angeles County, a director and vice chairman of the Los Angeles Metropolitan YMCAs, a trustee of The Buckley School, a trustee of Marlborough School, a member of the Los Angeles Mayor’s Trade Advisory Council, and the Council on Foreign Relations. He has also been appointed by President Obama to serve on his Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations.


John Emerson is married to Kimberly Marteau Emerson, an attorney who served in the Clinton Administration as director of Public Liaison for the U.S. Information Agency, a now-defunct foreign propaganda arm of the federal government, most of whose functions are now carried out by the Bureau of International Information Programs in the State Department

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Mr. Fix-It: When Things don't Run Right in California, the White House Calls on John Emerson (by Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times)

Mr. John B. Emerson & Ms. Kimberly Marteau Emerson (Pacific Council on International Policy)

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