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President Obama’s ambassadors: more political picks than career professionals

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Twenty-seven people nominated to ambassadorships by President Obama, as tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics, have made $4,475,725 in campaign contributions, almost all to Democrats, since 1989.

These 27 nominees contributed $144,431 to President Obama and $57,900 to once-rival and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reports the center. They have bundled (collected, as middleman, donations from others) at least $5 million for the president’s campaign and at least $1,782,500 for the president’s inauguration.

The president’s most recent nominee as ambassador to Germany, former Democratic National Committee finance chair and former Goldman Sachs executive Philip D. Murphy, and his wife “have contributed nearly $1.5 million to federal candidates, committees and parties since 1989, with 94 percent of that sum going to Democrats, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis. They also contributed an additional $100,000 to Obama’s inauguration committee.”

But this isn’t the real news. According to figures kept by the American Foreign Service Association, President Obama is making political patronage nominations to ambassadorships at twice the rate of the previous nine presidents.

The president has made 59 ambassadorial nominations as of July 1, according to American Foreign Service Association records — 35 are political nominees (1 confirmed, 19 nominated, 2 announced, 2 rumored); 24 are career Foreign Service nominees (4 confirmed, 21 nominated, 4 announced, 6 rumored).

According to the association, 110 of the current 175 ambassadorships are filled by career Foreign Service professionals (63 percent) and 45 by political nominees (nearly 26 percent). So far, the president’s record on nominations is reversing that ratio.

About 60 percent of President Obama’s ambassadorial choices so far, according to the association’s data, have been non-career, or political patronage, nominations. That’s nearly twice the average percentage of political nominees in previous administrations. The 40-year average, from presidents Kennedy to Clinton, for nominees is 30 percent political patronage and 70 percent career Foreign Service, according to the association.

Even President George W. Bush, who led the previous nine presidents in political patronage through ambassadorships, made only 36 percent of his 370 ambassadorial nominations political.

In its “Statement on Ambassadors,” the association argues:

The primary authority for choosing Ambassadors rests with the President, and the United States has a long tradition of public service by private citizens. This is appropriate and valuable, and private citizens should continue to serve in the diplomatic field. However, the value of this tradition of public service is undermined when individuals are chosen as ambassadors primarily for the size of their contributions to political campaigns, or for their personal friendship with the President. [emphasis added]

Twelve days before he took office, President Obama said:

I want to recruit young people into the State Department to feel that this is a career track that they can be on for the long term. And so, you know, my expectation is that high quality civil servants are going to be rewarded. You know, are there going to be political appointees to ambassadorships? There probably will be some. [emphasis added]

So far, some is an understatement. If the president continues to nominate political loyalists and fundraisers at this early rate, he’ll easily surpass President Bush’s 36 percent rate of political nominees. Perhaps the Senate, which must confirm nominees, should take note of this trend.

xpost: Scholars and Rogues

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

July 11, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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