The Obama administration has expanded the dubious White House practice of rewarding campaign donors with positions as ambassadors to foreign countries, a report from The Guardian said Wednesday.
Citing its own estimates based on figures leaked to the New York Times, the Guardian conjectured that ten recent or imminent appointees to foreign embassy positions had raised on average $1.8 million for Obama’s election campaign coffers.
The report noted that the ten donors had raised more than $5 million in 2013 alone. In contrast, the comparable number for George Bush’s appointees in 2001 was only $800,000.
The practice has increased under Obama’s watch to such an extent that some officials within the State Department are sounding the alarm. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering told the Guardian that in essence, the White House was practicing “simony” by selling elite diplomatic positions to the highest bidder.
Besides the moral implications of such cronyism, Pickering also pointed out that the practice damages relationships with the foreign countries to which the donors are posted.
Although appointing campaign supporters to low-stress diplomatic positions in countries with historically friendly ties to the U.S. has long been a White House custom, “It has the effect of diminishing perhaps the sense that the US is treating these countries with the respect they deserve,” Pickering told the Guardian.
Most notable among recent appointments was the case of Matthew Barzun, a Kentucky businessman who was the Obama re-election campaign’s finance chairman. Barzun raised $500,000 for the campaign in 2012. His reward? On Tuesday, President Obama tapped him to be the ambassador to Britain.
Those used to the process assert that actual knowledge of the country one is assigned to matters less than the ambassador’s relationship with the White House, which would presumably be quite cordial if one had given millions to put that administration in office.
“All that really matters is that the ambassador is close to the White House — and his top fundraiser usually is,” an anonymous British diplomat told the Guardian.
This same point however, is what rankles some in the State Department, who contend that they themselves, the career diplomats, should be the ones the White House listens to on foreign issues.
“This question of having the ear of the president, and who has it, shows the seriousness of the issue,” Pickering said.