The age-old tradition of awarding ambassadorships to favored presidential campaigners and donors, rather than qualified experts or career diplomats, has not halted with the Obama administration. In fact, outrage is now growing and has become so rampant that the American Foreign Service Association may soon attempt to block Obama's most recent appointees for top foreign posts.
In total, George Tsunis, Noah Mamet and Colleen Bell—future ambassadors to Norway, Argentina, and Hungary respectively—helped raised over $4.2 million dollars for Obama's successful presidential bid in 2012, the Guardian reports Tuesday.
Though nothing new in some respects, criticism has become heightened given Obama's declarations that his administration would put an end to the influence of big money on political appointments. One thing that stands out about some of his appointments is the degree to which their wealth in campaign contributions is almost inversely proportionate to the poverty of their experience in the countries where they have been nominated to serve.
The alarm bells were raised at a recent Senate hearing for some of the nominees in which, as the Guardian writes, it was "revealed they had little or no knowledge of their future postings."
In that hearing, Bell, a TV soap opera producer and future ambassador to Hungary, failed to answer one key question: “What are our strategic interests in Hungary?”
“Our strategic interests are to work collaboratively as NATO allies,” Bell said, “to work to promote and protect the security, both — for both countries and for — and for the world, to continue working together on the cause of human rights around the world, to build that side of our relationship while also maintaining and pursuing some difficult conversations that might be necessary in the coming years.”
Sen. John McCain ultimately replied: “Great answer,” in sarcastic fury, as the Washington Post reports.
Likewise, Tsunis, founder of Chartwell Hotels and future ambassador to Norway, gave a “faltering, incoherent” performance and displayed a “total ignorance” of the country, one Norwegian news outlet reported.
And Mamet, "a prominent Obama bundler nominated to be ambassador to Argentina" as the Washington Post reports, recently "acknowledged that he had never set foot in the country and isn’t fluent in Spanish."
It seems the AFSA, an independent professional body that represents current US diplomats, has had its fill. The group has called a board meeting for March 5 to decide whether the three nominees are suited for the job. If not, the agency will file a formal complaint.
The AFSA also published new guidelines for ambassador nominees on Tuesday, stating that knowledge of international affairs, particularly of the country one is assigned to, as well as management experience, should be required of the job.
The White House recently semi-denied that the amount of money an appointee has helped raise or personally donated is a qualification for the job.
“Being a donor to the president’s campaign does not guarantee you a job in the administration, but it does not prevent you from getting one,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
As a Guardian report in July revealed, while the practice is not a novel approach invented by the Obama administration, it has "accelerated" under Obama, with "the average 'price' paid by his donors for ambassadorships in the last election cycle at nearly $2m." That includes both money raised for and personally donated to the campaign.
Click here for a list of current appointees and their contributions to Obama or the Democratic Party, compiled by OpenSecrets.org.