Thursday, February 27, 2014

TheTruth Behind Obama's Use of Ambassador Posts as Political Rewards 2/2

by Nomad

In Part One of this two-part series, I told you about the recent embarrassing confirmation hearing for one of Obama's ambassadors. The quality of the president choices has been called into question. More importantly some on the Right have been asking whether the president isn't simply rewarding his top dollar campaign contributors with these positions. 
It's a good question. In this part we will look at the more recent history of this practice and how it has evolved in the last forty years.

A Look Back: Carter, Bush and Son
Candidates that have run on a reformist platform - like Obama- have fallen into the same trap. President Carter, for example, came under fire in 1977 for exactly the same thing. An article in The Telegraph reported at the time that four top ambassadors were high dollar contributors to Carter campaign in the Georgia governor's race in 1970. 
But, of all the presidents, Carter holds the record for the most number of career appointees, meaning people who have spent their lives working for the Foreign Service- not friends or political contributors. 

In 1980 Congress actually attempted to restrict the practice with The Foreign Service Act. It stated that the Foreign Service, which of course includes ambassadors, should be operated on the basis of merit principles. Merit naturally requires some kind of career in the diplomatic service. More specifically, the Act states that ''contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor in the appointment of an individual as a chief of mission.'' 
Upon signing of the bill into law in October of that year, President Carter said:
This bill provides the first comprehensive revision of personnel legislation for the United States Foreign Service in 34 years. It is an important step in the reform, simplification, and improvement of personnel administration in the Government, a top priority of my administration.
It didn't take too long for the Reagan administration to ignore that. According to a 1983 study by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan tied for the number of political ambassadors they appointed, at 32 percent each, according to a 1983 study by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA). That figure is just above an average of roughly 30 percent since World War II.

By the time George H.W. Bush became president, it was as if the reforms of 1980 had never been written . In 1989 one report found that half Bush's administration's 26 reported ambassadors-designate were President Bush's enthusiastic campaigners, or direct Republican campaign contributors or old friends of the family. At that time, President Bush had set a new standard for the spoils system. 

Every President reserves choice ambassadorial posts like Paris, London and Rome for friends and patrons, and George Bush's defenders say that he is simply carrying on a time-honored tradition. But many lawmakers, political analysts and former and current Foreign Service officers charge that the Bush Administration has let the diplomatic spoils system get out of control.
(Strange how when Republicans do it, it's a time-honored tradition.)
Be that as it may, as the article points out, Bush's appointments led to some big red flags about the dubious qualifications of his choices. Take the case of  Henry E. Catto Jr., who was an Pizza Hut executive, Republican Party contributor and longtime friend of the President. Catto was is a five-time Ambassador. He apparently made a bit of a spectacle of himself when he decided to fly the Texas flag over his official residence in London and to install a wooden Hereford cow on the lawn.

The criticism came from some fairly important places too. The American Academy of Diplomacy, the organization of former Foreign Service and non-career ambassadors, rated the majority of Mr. Bush's political appointees as unqualified for their posts.

In the NYT article David Newsome, director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and a former Under Secretary of State, was quoted as saying:
''The appointment of ambassadors is the last unchallenged form of political patronage, and our approach is the most capricious of any Western democracy. But this Administration sets another standard. I have never seen such an open admission of the relationship between campaign contributions and ambassadorial appointments. "
And that standard was unmatched until his own son became president.

The March of the Pioneers
One of the innovations of the George W. Bush's campaign strategy- with Rove as the mastermind- was to classify contributors into three distinct groups, depending on how generous they were. It was called the Pioneer System. Anybody with a spare $100,000 to donate could become a Bush Pioneer, but if you had  $200,000+ you could join the ranks of  Bush Rangers. Very generous contributors who gave $300,000 or more were the elite (and most loved) and were called Super Rangers.  
The line between a political contributor and a fundraiser was blurred and was now called "a bundler"- a person that no only donated money but recruited his friends too.
Consider it a free market spin on the ugly side of politics. But that's only half the story. The elites of these groups were not simply paying for the honor of supporting Bush. In many cases, they were reserving a  position as an ambassador- something most of them had absolutely no qualification for. It is in fact a more streamlined version of  Nixon's auctioning off of ambassadorial positions. As one source puts it:
"Pioneers who helped to open the White House door to Mr Bush were generously rewarded.
Here are some notable examples.
David  Wilkins served as the  state chair  of the Bush–Cheney '04 campaign  and co-chair of the campaign in 2000.  Wilkins was a top Republican fundraiser in both campaigns. In spite of the fact that Wilkins had only been to America's next door neighbor to the North one time, Bush felt he was qualified to be nominated as U. S. Ambassador to Canada.

Massachusetts billionaire and  founder of EMC Corp,  Richard J. Egan was a "significant" fundraiser for Bush's 2000 presidential campaign. Egan's  supply of spendable green was like a lucky charm. After Bush took office, Egan was nominated to become  the United States Ambassador to Ireland despite  a "number of other diplomatic nominees whose names were higher on the list for hearing than Egan’s." 
The appointment raised some question- at the time- about conflicts of interest. (Eagle-eyed Edward Kennedy was first to notice a problem.)
According to an obituary in Forbes:
Egan had a strong connection to Ireland. EMC was among the first high-tech companies to encourage the country's Celtic Tiger economy, opening an assembly and testing plant in County Cork in 1988, the same year that EMC went public.
Of course the so-called Celtic Tiger economy was pretty much dead by the time President Bush left office.

Francis Rooney, CEO of an investment and holding company,  was a big league contributor to the Bush campaign, and served on the fundraising team of Connie Mack IV. His reward? With Bush's blessing, Rooney became the United States Ambassador to the Holy See between  2005 to 2008.

There was Sam Fox, for example, national chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition who donated had been a generous friend to Republican candidates and causes since the 1990s, giving well over $1 million over the years. He was nominated for the post of ambassador to Belgium in 2007. When Senator John Kerry objected, Bush slipped in and appointed Fox the ambassador when Congress was in recess. Two practices that Republicans now condemn when Obama is president.
(In fact, Fox apparently made an excellent ambassador and when he left office his contributions were recognized with the Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown, bestowed by His Majesty King Albert II. But that's not the point.)

The Roll Call
In order to understand the full scope of Republican hypocrisy when it comes to their objections to Obama, look at this partial list of non-career nominees who have significant financial or political connections to President Bush :
  • Nancy Brinker (Hungary; 2000 Pioneer),
  • W.L. Brown Jr. (Austria; 2000 Pioneer),
  • Richard Egan (Ireland; 2000 Pioneer, 2004 Ranger),
  • Russell Freeman (Belize; 2000 Pioneer),
  • Tony Gioia (Malta; 2000 Pioneer),
  • Hans Hertell (Dominican Republic; 2000 Pioneer),
  • Robert W. Jordan (Saudi Arabia; 2000 Pioneer),
  • Frank Lavin (Singapore; 2000 Pioneer),
  • Howard Leach (France; 2000 Pioneer),
  • John Ong (Norway; 2000 Pioneer), J
  • ohn Palmer (Portugal; 2000 Pioneer),
  • Mercer Reynolds III (Switzerland, 2000 Pioneer),
  • John Rood (Bahamas; 2000 Pioneer, 2004 Ranger),
  • Rockwell Schnabel (European Union; 2000 Pioneer),
  • Martin Silverstein (Uruguay; 2000, 2004 Pioneer),
  • Craig Stapleton (Czech Republic; 2004 Pioneer),
  • Charles Swindells (New Zealand; 2000 Pioneer),
  • Peter Terpeluk Jr. (Luxembourg; 2000 Pioneer),
  • Ronald Weiser (Slovak Republic; 2000 Pioneer)
  • Aldona Wos (Estonia; 2004 Ranger)
(For a truly mind-blowing graphic showing the relationships click HERE.) 

None of this should be a surprise. As John McCain knows all too well, it's the way things have been done in Washington for ages.

Obama's Broken Promise
In defense of Obama's record, White House spokesmen Eric Schultz said President Obama  has selected “talented people from all across the country and all kinds of professional backgrounds” to represent the United States abroad.  That would by itself be something to debate. But Schultz took it one step further beyond, some would say, the point of credibility.
“Being a donor does not get you a job in this administration, nor does it preclude you from getting one.
That's what they pay White House spokespeople to say, I suppose. 
In truth, there's no getting around it. Obama promised to change things- things exactly like this- and what we have seems to be just more of the same. Some might see it as a betrayal of his campaign promises. Voters from the left have every reason to condemn the President for continuing a practice that has warped every administration and  for too long.
Obama was supposed to be different. That's what makes its painful. Back in 2006,  a National Press Club in Washington, DC, Obama said:
The American people are tired of a Washington that's only open to those with the most cash and the right connections.They're tired of a political process where the vote you cast isn't as important as the favors you can do....
The underlying issue of how extensively money influences politics is the original sin of everyone who's ever run for office - myself included. In order to get elected, we need to raise vast sums of money by meeting and dealing with people who are disproportionately wealthy.
This is the same man who said:
Instead of finding cushy political jobs for unqualified buddies, it's time to start finding good-paying jobs for hardworking Americans trying to raise a family.
Nevertheless, Senator McCain's grumbling and the Republican objections to Obama's appointments are hypocritical to say the least. As the Republicans said of President George H.W. Bush, isn't Obama simply upholding a time-honored tradition? 
Besides, had McCain somehow managed to win the 2008 election, does he honestly expect anybody to believe that he too wouldn't be doing exactly the same thing?
We have no way of knowing what McCain might have promised to his donors. According to an article in the New York Times in 2008,
More than 100 of Mr. McCain’s top bundlers were either Bush “Pioneers” or “Rangers,” raising more than $100,000 or $200,000 each for President Bush in 2004, demonstrating that Mr. McCain has made at least some progress in recruiting members of the high-powered fund-raising apparatus that helped Mr. Bush set fund-raising records.
It's not out of the question to think they would have expected the same service from McCain as they received from Bush, namely a plum ambassadorial post in exchange for the Almighty dollar. 

As one source tells us, Republican complaints against Obama ambassadors are pretty lame simply because they are disingenuous. A fair resolution to this form of corruption will never come about by either side pointing fingers at the opposing party. The nature of campaigning reinforces the rewards system and no politician from either party, no matter how noble he might pretend to be, is willing to restrict himself from a tool that every candidate in the past has used.

Why It Will Never End
If there is any way to fix the problem, it will have to come from a meeting of the minds from both parties. In that National Press Club speech in 2006, Obama also said:
And while only some are to blame for the corruption that has plagued this city, all are responsible for fixing it.
And that, these days, is a highly unlikely prospect to say the least.
The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) continues to appeal for a bipartisan commitment to a more professional, better trained and better resourced diplomatic service. It also argues that “the appointment of non-career individuals, however accomplished in their own field, to lead America’s important diplomatic missions abroad should be exceptional and circumscribed, not the routine practice it has become over the last three decades.”
The problem with that sound advice is that everybody has turned off their hearing aids. That article adds a realistic note:
The notion that this practice of appointing mega donors as ambassadors is going to end soon or later (when there’s a new administration) is rather absurd. The reality is both political parties have an interest in perpetuating this practice. So the people who can put a stop to it, will not stop it.
That doesn't mean that people like Darrell Issa can't find some way to make Obama ambassador appointments into another of his self-serving Obama scandals.