Obama Fundraisers Rewarded with Key Ambassadorships

Thursday, 11 Jul 2013 11:59 AM

By Andrea Billups

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Raising big money has proven a fast ticket to ambassadorships even though President Barack Obama pledged to change the pay-for-play environment typical of Washington.

According to The Washington Times, among those in line to receive a foreign post are three fundraisers who helped raise millions for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, plus many others who offered big bucks to help the president.

Among the latest friends of Obama set for ambassadorships are former fundraising bundler and New York Times reporter Crystal Nix-Hines, who has been tapped for a cultural position at the United Nations office in Paris, as well as Matthew Barzun and John Phillips, who are ambassador nominees to Britain and Italy respectively.

Barzun is a former Obama campaign finance chairman while Phillips raised more than $300,000 for his two White House bids.

They are not alone, and veteran diplomats have begun to complain about what they see as a rise in political fundraisers and operatives being named to diplomatic posts as a quid pro quo for their services, The Guardian reported Wednesday.

"The giving of ambassadorships to people who have raised a lot of money for the campaign has increased and that's a concern to us in particular," said Susan Johnson, who serves as president of the American Foreign Service Association, an organization representing career diplomats.

"There was some thought that with Obama being such a 'change agent' that he might really do things differently – but it has just been a bigger let down," she told the Guardian.

The Washington Times said at least 11 diplomatic nominees chosen by Obama are either high-dollar donors or campaign team members. Chicago hotel heiress Penny Pritzker was tapped by Obama as commerce secretary.

While Obama is not the only president to give cushy jobs to his fiscal faithful, ethics experts cried foul because the president had pledged to change the environment in Washington in his 2008 campaign.

“If anything, he’s put more of a focus on it, given the number of fundraisers he’s attended and the length of his bundlers’ list,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told the newspaper. “Certainly there’s no attempt to divorce financiers from the perks of ambassadorships and plum jobs that have consistently been offered up as rewards for that service.”

“Nobody is going to say, ‘Oh yes, they purchased that ambassadorship,’” she said. “But this is the understanding that bundlers bring to the work.”

The White House pushed back on any assertions that Obama was using money as the carrot on a diplomatic stick.

“In filling these posts, the administration looks for the most qualified candidates who represent Americans from all walks of life,” said Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman. “Being a donor does not get you a job in this administration, nor does it preclude you from getting one.”

Schultz defended the administration, which he said “has across the board set the toughest ethics standards in history, including a bold commitment to transparency.”

“As a result, we have reduced special-interest influence and promoted merit-based decision-making,” he added.

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