At a meeting Thursday, tucked between a resolution condemning the recent terrorist attacks in Kenya and a panel on the ongoing civil war in Syria, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on the confirmation of 25 prospective diplomatic appointees, a number of them wealthy supporters of President Barack Obama. Late Tuesday, the White House announced the nominations of two more big Obama donors to ambassadorships.
The available posts that the Foreign Relations Committee will consider this week run the gamut from an ambassadorship in Sierra Leone to domestic policy positions like the Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance. While most of the nominees are seasoned State Department employees, six of the cushiest (and in some cases, sunniest) posts are going to candidates with distinctly different resumes.
These positions don't come cheap: All told, the would-be ambassador-donors bundled at least $4.5 million+ for Obama's reelection effort. The total could be much more: The exact amount these six individuals gathered for the president's campaigns is unknown because receipts from bundlers — givers who tap their personal networks for donations to a candidate — are reported voluntarily (if at all) by campaigns, and the Obama campaign limited its disclosure to ranges of value rather than exact amounts (see the full list at Opensecrets.org). What we do know: All six of the bundler-nominees up for confirmation this week have a long history of giving generously to Democratic causes. Here's who's getting what, with links to their profiles on Sunlight's Influence Explorer.
- Dominican Republic (home of the beach pictured above): James "Wally" Brewster
- Morocco: Dwight Bush
- Portugal: Robert Sherman
- The Netherlands: Timothy Broas
- UNESCO: Crystal Nix-Hines
- United Nations in Geneva: Pam Hamamoto
The two ambassadors Obama just nominated also make the Opensecrets bundlers list and are major contributors to other Democratic candidates and causes:
Citing internal campaign documents that it had obtained, the New York Times reported in Sept. 2012 that Bush, Hamamoto and Sherman each bundled more than $1 million for Obama. Sherman helped found the Boston office of the multi-national law firm Greenburg Traurig, which has a formidable influence profile of its own.
Hamamoto, a grade school classmate of Obama, has a background in finance. She formerly worked as an executive at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch. The UN's Geneva post she's angling for has been in headlines in recent weeks as the proposed site of ceasefire talks between Syrian rebels and the Bashar regime — though opposition groups ultimately rejected the plans. Dwight Bush — another longtime Obama ally — is the former president and CEO of Urban Trust Bank.
Along with Broas, Hamamoto and Sherman were also bundlers for the president's 2008 campaign.
The Center for Public Integrity's handy world map illustrates the geographical trends of appointing contributor-ambassadors –they tend to stay in the Western Hemisphere, while career diplomats are usually appointed to fill vacant posts in more troubled nations. Generally, ambassadorships in Western Europe are considered to be the 'priciest' for those wishing to parlay campaign cash for a State Department post.
Early in Obama's first term there were murmurs that the new president would forego the usual practice of nominating political friends and supporters to diplomatic posts. In actuality he has hewed to the precedent set by his predecessors, reserving around 30 percent of available ambassadorships for political backers.
(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)