Money and Democracy

Published — May 28, 2009 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Buying ambassadorships redux: Four Obama nominees were big-money bundlers


President Barack Obama’s pledge to change the ways of Washington doesn’t yet seem to apply to the diplomatic selection process, if yesterday’s round of ambassadorial nominations is any guide.

Last August the Center reported on “Checkbook Diplomacy” — the longstanding practice of presidents appointing ambassadors based on their campaign contributions and loyalty — as part of our Buying of the President 2008 project. But with the $2,300 per-election limit on presidential campaign contributions, White House hopefuls now rely on big money bundlers instead. So it comes as no surprise that four of Obama’s new ambassadorial nominees bundled more than $100,000 each for his 2008 campaign.

They are:

  • Ambassador to Denmark-designate Laurie Fulton, who raised at least $100,000 for Obama;
  • Ambassador to the United Kingdom-designate Louis Susman, who raised at least $200,001 for Obama and donated at least $30,000 to pro-Obama political committees;
  • Ambassador to France-designate Charles Rivkin, who raised at least $500,001 for Obama;
  • Ambassador to Japan-designate John Roos, who with his wife Susan, raised at least $500,001 for Obama.

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 states that “contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor” in the appointment of ambassadors, though it does not appear that many administrations have followed that rule. There were more than 600 Obama bundlers, and more than 125 other ambassadorial positions are still up for grabs. So we’ll see if these four prove to be the exception or the rule in the Obama White House.

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