How would you like a job as the main American liaison to major foreign powers abroad?
An ambassadorship involves representing the American people to heads-of-state, government officials and business leaders. In addition, an ambassador must manage a staff of hundreds and act as the point-man for U.S. government activity in that nation. You’d think that before being handed such an immense responsibility, one would need years of experience in that country, learning the language and forging the relationships necessary to advance the interests of the American people.
Of course, you’d be wrong. In fact, all you need to do sometimes is just cut a fat check to whoemver happened to win the last election.
Having just been sworn in to his second term, President Obama has just begun the time-honored process of rewarding big donors with ambassadorships in about 30 major capitols, according to the New York Times.
“Mr. Obama has followed recent tradition in making appointments; like every president going back to Ronald Reagan, he has filled about 70 percent of the posts with career diplomats and 30 percent with political appointees, often but not always top donors…Highly sought European and Caribbean countries usually go to political appointees,” the Times wrote.
Recently, two political scientists at Penn State University calculated the implied price of earning such a plum ambassadorship, which comes with free luxury housing and a salary well north of $100,000 per year.
“When isolating a country’s wealth over other factors, Luxembourg came in at the top of the chart, with a posting there valued at $3.1 million in direct contributions, while an appointment to Portugal was predicted to have a value of $602,686 in personal contributions,” according to the New York Times. “…When factoring in a country’s tourist trade, however, France and Monaco top the list, with the level of personal contributions at $6.2 million and bundled contributions at $4.4 million.”
Often, these mega-donors prove themselves more adept at lining campaign coffers than actually carrying out the business of the American people overseas, according to the Washington Post.
“Nicole Avant, a music industry executive who raised at least $500,000, served as ambassador to the Bahamas until November,” the Post wrote. “The inspector general wrote that her tenure was part of ‘an extended period of dysfunctional leadership and mismanagement, which has caused problems throughout the embassy.’ The report said Avant spent roughly 40 percent of her time out of the country over a two-year period.”
Another politically-appointed ambassador, Cynthia Stroum, resigned less than a year after her appointment as ambassador to Luxembourg in the midst of a blistering report which criticized her after ‘she sent her staff on a house-hunting mission, billed the government for bedding after being told she couldn’t and was ‘keenly interested’ in the materials used for remodeling two bathrooms in her residence,’ according to a Washington Post report.
When America’s top universities are accused to selling spots to the children of wealthy donors, it’s treated as a scandal. When top spots in the American Foreign Service are openly auctioned off, it’s treated as business as usual in Washington.
It’s this exact sorry state of affairs that United Republic’s Represent.us movement is trying to combat. The corrupting influence of money in politics means that top spots representing the United States to major world powers don’t go to the best or the brightest, but simply the richest. It’s un-fair, it’s un-American and it’s about time it changed.