Selling Public Office: Presidential Campaign Donors Rewarded With Posh Embassy Appointments

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President Barack Obama’s penchant for appointing top campaign fundraisers to cherry positions inside luxe American embassies in the capitals of allied nations isn’t a new abuse of American Presidential power; it’s simply an expansion on a trend that’s begun to tick off our friends and frustrate advocates for reform here at home.

Nile Gardiner of Britain’s The Telegraph summed up the feeling in a column indicting the Obama Administration’s “selling of public office” Wednesday:

The Obama administration will claim this is no big deal. After all, previous US administrations, both Democrat and Republican, have also rewarded major donors with plum diplomatic posts.

But long-standing precedent doesn’t mean the practice of rewarding party fundraisers is in any way ethical or right, and it certainly doesn’t serve American interests.

The appointment of Matthew Barzun and other major fundraisers to key diplomatic posts is an insult to the American people, as well as an insult to the countries to which they are being sent.

Who’s Matthew Barzun? Well, for one thing, he’s not a diplomat; and he certainly lacks any connection to Britain. He’s a former Obama campaign finance chairman who helped the President raise $700 million for his re-election bid, including $2.3 million out of his own funds. That all happened after Obama had rewarded him for similar work in the 2008 race by appointing him as ambassador to Sweden, another honorific that placed Barzun at the front of a line of vastly more qualified career diplomats. Barzun’s nomination still must be confirmed by the Senate.

In all, Obama has sent 18 of his biggest fundraisers to American embassy posts since 2009. But his friends don’t end up in dangerous, destabilized places (like, say, Benghazi, Libya); they go to London, Paris and Rome.

For conservatives, lambasting Obama has become a straw man pastime; it’s too easy. But this sort of abuse of office has been slowly creeping into the culture of the American Presidency, and Obama is only building on a perverse tradition laid down by immediate predecessors hailing from both major parties.

According to the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), 89 of Obama’s 276 ambassador nominations — 32 percent — have been “political” appointees, with the rest going to “real” diplomats. Slain Libya ambassador Christopher Stevens was one such “real” diplomat, having joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1991 and having served in multiple roles in several Mideast countries.

Those numbers are very much in keeping with precedents set by George W. Bush (28 percent political, 72 percent diplomatic); Bill Clinton (26 percent political, 74 percent diplomatic); George H. W. Bush (31 percent political, 69 percent diplomatic); and Ronald Reagan (33 percent political, 67 percent diplomatic).

“Now is the time to end the spoils system and the de facto ‘three-year rental’ of ambassadorships,” the AFSA asserts in a statement on its website. “The United States is alone in this practice; no other major democracy routinely appoints non-diplomats to serve as envoys to other countries.”

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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  • Blank Reg

    Perhaps if we had a non-interventionist foreign policy, this issue would not matter so much…

    • Vigilant

      Ambassadorial staff have always been necessary, for trade or other considerations.

      • 1baronrichsnot1

        Just put the most qualified in the position, we all see what happens when that no brain decision isn’t followed.

        • Vigilant

          It’s happened for over 200 years.

  • 1baronrichsnot1

    It’s called pay to play!

    • Ried

      Something that we in Illinois have heard a lot about! It seems to be a pre-requisite for our politicians who aspire to higher office, like US Senator or President. And is practiced by repugnants and dumbocrats.

  • Warrior

    And tomorrow, maybe we can learn more about who are in the “czar” positions.

  • FreedomFighter

    “But long-standing precedent doesn’t mean the practice of rewarding party fundraisers is in any way ethical or right, and it certainly doesn’t serve American interests.”
    Does this president ever stop abusing his power and the American people?
    2014 let us all put upstanding men and women into office that will end this tyrants abuses
    Laus DeoSemper FI

  • ONTIME

    Plum jobs are a part of American politics since the beginning, it is how we look to find representatives and delegates to attend to our foreign relations and staff our embassies, not all diplomats are well known or capable but we have had the benefit and a history of some really fine negotiations in our past….It ain’t great but we have muddled through…..

  • frank papcin

    why any surprise?–didn’t Clinton get a political plum for dropping out of the race?–and the promise of support for her next run?–look at who or should say what his cabinet members are?

    • billybob

      Great statement. It has always been a part of our politica fabric. My question is what position did the guy who bilked “we the people” out of a 1/2 billion dollars for that trumped up Solardyne company. That was one of the biggest heist in America and they did it right in front of all America. No bank or private investment company would have given this guy the time of day, but the Obama administration gave him $500,000,000.00 The company could never have made a nickel. But it did contribute a lot to the Obama reelection campaign.

    • billybob

      Correction, It was Solyndra not Solardyne!

  • Phillip Maine

    Most of you will not remember that it is the carrier workers or Diplomats that were the main driving force to bring us where we are. The payoff positions may not be comfortable, but they did cause total change when the opposition won the election, something that is not happening now. When you have a carrier person in place, it does not matter who is elected, the policies remain the same. Most of these Carrier Diplomats think and do exactly the opposite of what is in our and the world’s best enterests.

  • Freedomrequiresresponsibility

    HOPE and CHANGE my hairy white ass……