Map Shows Obama Money-Raisers Take Key Ambassadorships

Wednesday, 27 Nov 2013 01:11 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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It's not unusual for presidents to appoint allies to ambassadorships, but Barack Obama has taken it to a new level, nominating 23 of his top campaign "bundlers," as well as 18 other political allies, to ambassadorships.

And more donor-nominees are on their way.

The nonprofit Center for Public Integrity has released an interactive map that shows how Obama is sending top donors to plum assignments worldwide while career diplomats overwhelmingly get postings to Africa, South Asia, and South America.

Michael Beckel and Chris Zubak-Skees, who have worked on the map since July, told Mashable that the project is continuing since many of Obama's nominees aren't yet confirmed.

However, they said in an email, "there is a causal relationship between big-dollar fundraising and some of the most-sought-after positions in the diplomatic corps.

"This project was conceived to highlight the fact that scores of plum ambassadorship postings are going not to career diplomats, but to well-connected political fundraisers," they said.

Under federal law, individuals can donate only $2,600 to a candidate. However, bundlers work to gather up donations from several people, and some of Obama's better appointments have gone to people who have brought together up to $1.2 million in campaign contributions, even though they have no diplomatic experience.

Three of the highest-ranking bundlers are Kirk Wagar, founder and manager of Wagar Law Firm, whose nomination to Singapore came after he raised $1.2 million; Matthew Winthrop Barzun, national finance chair for Obama's 2012 campaign, who is heading to London after he also raised $1.2 million; and Barclays Director of Financial Services Mark Gilbert, who has been nominated but not yet confirmed as ambassadorship to New Zealand.

Other top bundlers are either nominated or approved for coveted posts such as those in Germany,  Canada, Italy, the Dominican Republic, the European Union, Argentina, and Spain.

Yet others have been nominated for key UN positions, the interactive map shows.

For example, Pamela Hamamoto, a former executive at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, has been nominated as a representative to the Office of the UN and other International Organizations in Geneva, after bundling $700,000 toward Obama's campaigns.

Meanwhile diplomats with years of experience are ending up in such backwaters as Sierra Leone, Angola, Laos, and Palau.

In Europe, 11 posts went to bundlers, one to what Beckel and Zubak-Skees call an "other political appointee" while just four — Albania, Greece, Bosnia-Herzogovina, and Ukraine — went to career diplomats. But in Africa, the map shows, 18 posts went to career diplomats, two — South Africa and Tanzania — to political appointees and just Morocco to a bundler.

"This practice has been going on for generations, but this year, President Obama has been appointing political allies to ambassadorships at an exceptionally high rate," Beckel and Zubak-Skees told Mashable.

The nominations aren't stopping there.

Obama is close to nominating Jane Hartley, a top fundraiser and co-founder of the economic and political advisory firm Observatory Group LLC, U.S. ambassador to Paris, columnist Al Kamen writes in Wednesday's Washington Post.

In addition, Tom Carnahan, the brother of former Democratic Mississippi Rep. Russ Carnahan, may be heading to Ireland.


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