Cha-ching: Obama fills top ambassador jobs with donors, friends

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Politics,White House,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Barack Obama,Jobs,President,Campaign Finance

Despite campaign promises to change Washington's money-influenced ways when he became chief executive, President Barack Obama has embraced the practice of dishing out cushy ambassadorial jobs to major donors and political allies, according to a new analysis.

Since his re-election, Obama has nominated 20 campaign donation “bundlers” who raised at least $13.8 million, and 16 political friends, like Caroline Kennedy, picked to represent the U.S. in Japan, who on Thursday was met with praise during a Senate confirmation hearing, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

It’s a major reversal of Obama’s first term pattern. Half of his second term ambassadorial picks have been political. In his first term 35 percent were of donors and allies.

The practice has irked the Foreign Service which had hoped that the president would elevate more career diplomats. And it broke with Obama’s own campaign theme of change.

In his analysis, CPI’s Michael Beckel wrote: “When he was running for president in 2008, Obama pledged to be a different kind of politician and stressed his ‘commitment to changing the way business is done in Washington.’ The custom of elevating top donors and fundraisers to plum diplomatic posts — a practice embraced by Democratic and Republican presidents for generations — wasn’t touched, however.”

According to the American Foreign Service Association, half of the president's second-term ambassadorial picks have been “political,” the other half “career.” Since he first won the White House, 64 percent of his picks have been career diplomats, 35 percent political. Under former President George W. Bush, even more career diplomats were chosen as U.S. ambassadors, 70 percent versus 30 percent political hires. Former President Bill Clinton did better still, with over 72 percent career.

The analysis focused on the president’s recent picks, including veteran Goldman Sachs & Co. executive Bruce Heyman of Chicago. He raised more than $750,000 and was named to be the next ambassador to Canada.

He follows two who each bundled $1.2 million for Obama: Matthew Barzun, currently U.S. ambassador to England, and attorney Kirk W.B. Wagar, the U.S. ambassador to Singapore.

The CPI site features an interactive map showing the president's second term hires.

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.