Published by Michael Beckel on May 28, 2009 10:42 PM
U.S. presidents have long rewarded big campaign donors, fundraisers and other loyalists with ambassadorships, and Democratic President Barack Obama seems to be no exception. Yesterday, he officially announced his intent to nominate a dozen individuals to ambassadorships around the globe. That list included a handful of career Foreign Service officers, but it also included several big contributors and bundlers, who, along with their spouses, have given nearly $1 million almost exclusively to Democrats since the 1990 election cycle. These donations include $34,600 to Obama himself, on top of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they steered toward Obama's presidential campaign and inauguration committees as bundlers.
Some of the individuals nominated for ambassadorships have not contributed any money to federal candidates, parties or committees, but most have, including one who reportedly holds the nickname of "Vacuum Cleaner" for his ability to suck up checks for Democrats. The nominated individuals--including Obama's choice to be the ambassador to Ireland, which he announced on St. Patrick's Day--and their spouses, have contributed at least $968,900 since 1989. Of this sum, 89 percent has gone to Democrats. (Download a list of the political contributions the nominees have given by cycle, as well as the candidates that have received money from them here: Ambassador_Data.xls. Note that there are two tabs.)
Here's the money-in-politics breakdown for Obama's recent ambassador picks:
Louis B. Susman: This lawyer and investment banker has reportedly earned the nicknames the "vacuum cleaner" and "big bundler" for his prowess as a bundler of campaign cash. He bundled at least $100,000 for Obama's presidential campaign and at least $300,000 for his inauguration, according to Public Citizen. This includes $50,000 from his personal funds. Further, he and his wife have contributed at least $581,400 to federal candidates, committees and parties, with 99 percent of that sum going to Democrats, including at least $12,800 to Obama. He has been nominated to be the ambassador to the United Kingdom.
Daniel M. Rooney: Owner and chairman of the Pittsburgh Steeler's football team, he and his wife have contributed at least $152,400 to federal candidates, committees and parties since the 1990 election cycle, including $500 to Obama. Ninety percent of their funds have gone to Democrats. Rooney also endorsed Obama in the run-up to Pennsylvania's heated presidential primary in April of 2008. He is a co-founder of the Ireland-related fundraising organization, The Ireland Funds, as well, and he has been nominated to be the ambassador to Ireland.
Charles H. Rivkin: The head of the entertainment company W!LDBRAIN, he served as a delegate to the Democratic National Committee in support of Obama last summer. Moreover, he sent at least half-a-million towards Obama's campaign committee as a bundler and another $300,000 toward his inaugural committee. Since the 1994 election cycle, he has personally contributed more than $97,500 to Democrats, including $6,600 to Obama, and now he has been nominated to be the ambassador to France.
John V. Roos: This lawyer has bundled at least $500,000 to Obama's presidential campaign. He and his wife have also contributed at least $77,500 to Democrats since the 1992 election cycle, including $6,900 to Obama. Roos is the CEO of the technology-oriented law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and has been nominated to be ambassador to Japan.
Laurie S. Fulton: The long-time lawyer who also served on the Board of Directors of the United States Institute of Peace from 2004 to 2008 bundled at least $100,000 for Obama's presidential campaign. Moreover, she has personally contributed at least $48,900 to Democrats since the 1992 election cycle, including $4,850 to Obama. She has been nominated to be the ambassador to Denmark.
Vilma S. Martinez: The former head of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a litigator with Munger, Tolles & Olson, she has contributed more than $9,800 to Democratic candidates and groups since 1989, including at least $1,900 to Obama. She has been nominated to be ambassador to Argentina.
Miguel H. Díaz: A professor of theology at St. John's University and the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota, Diaz contributed $1,000 to Obama's campaign last fall, his only federal political contribution to meet disclosure requirements since 1989. He also served as a Catholic adviser to Obama's presidential campaign. He has been nominated to be the ambassador to the Vatican.
Michael A. Battle, Sr.: The president of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Ga., Battle has no known history of giving federal campaign cash. He has also been an administrator at several higher education institutions, including Chicago State University, Virginia State University and Hampton University, and he has been nominated to be the U.S. representative to the African Union, which has the rank of ambassador.
Robert S. Connan: Working for the U.S. Commercial Service within the Department of Commerce since 1980, Connan has not made any contributions exceeding $200 to federal candidates, committees or parties. His most recent position has been with the European Union, and he has been nominated to be the ambassador to Iceland.
Patricia A. Butenis: A career officer with the U.S. Foreign Service, which she joined in 1980, Butenis has served most recently in the U.S. embassy in Iraq. She has been nominated to be the ambassador to both Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Butenis has not given contributions greater than $200 since 1989.
Christopher William Dell: A career officer with the U.S. Foreign Service, which he joined in 1983, he served most recently in the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan. He has been nominated to be the ambassador to Kosovo, and he does not have any known federal campaign contributions.
Thomas A. Shannon: A career member of the U.S. Foreign Service, which he joined in 1984, he is the current Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Ambassador. He has not given any federal campaign contributions greater than $200, and he has been nominated to be the ambassador to Brazil.
Timothy J. Roemer: The former six-term Democratic congressman from Indiana was a member of the 9/11 Commission and provided Obama with a hearty endorsement during the contentious primary race with Hillary Clinton. He currently heads the Center for National Policy, a DC-based public policy organization, and has been nominated to be the ambassador to India. He has not made any personal campaign contributions to federal candidates, but he does appear in our Revolving Door database.
Since John F. Kennedy was president in the 1960s, about one-third of American ambassadors have been political appointees, according to the American Academy of Diplomacy. The academy is among the groups that think the public would be served if that number was lowered, and have urged Obama to cut that number to about ten percent. "Too often ambassadorships have served as political rewards for unqualified candidates," they wrote in a letter to Obama last year.
Time will tell if the Obama administration has any plans to buck this tradition and reduce the number of non-career appointees. And even as Obama rewards some big donors with ambassadorships, he has also pledged to grow the number of Foreign Service officers. The budget plan he submitted to Congress earlier this year would increase by 25 percent the total number of Foreign Service officers by 2013 and double the number of staffers at the U.S. Agency for International Development by 2012.