Obama Rewards Campaign Donors With Ambassador Jobs

The president and Hillary Clinton said they would put more career diplomats into the positions.

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President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have promised to put more career diplomats into cherished ambassadorial jobs, but the group that represents the Foreign Service says it's not happening. In a new memo they're showing to friendly lawmakers, the American Foreign Service Association says Obama is rewarding donors and campaign "bundlers" just as past presidents did. "It's the same old, same old," says a diplomat. "Now is the time to end the spoils system and the de facto 'three-year-rental' of ambassadorships," says the group's memo. [See photos of Obama abroad.]

Despite promises to change how Washington works, Obama has actually perfected the game of giving political allies and donors key ambassadorships in countries like England, France, Japan, Spain, Finland, and Australia. And in the eyes of foreign service association, he’s become the worst abuser, putting political allies in 44 percent of the top 185 ambassadorial positions. By comparison, 30 percent of George W. Bush’s ambassadors were political appointees and 28 percent of Bill Clinton’s political allies and donors.

While foreign nations fill key ambassadorships with career diplomats, it’s long been part of America’s tradition of giving presidential donors and friends the overseas posts and hoping for the best.

But it’s a practice the Foreign Service thought would be curbed under Obama. The American Foreign Service Association said in its new statement on ambassador appointments, “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. Over this period 85 percent of ambassadorial appointments to major European countries and Japan, and nearly 60 percent of appointments to a wider group of emerging global powers such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China, have been political.

“AFSA appeals for a bipartisan commitment to a more professional, better trained and better resourced diplomatic service. America deserves the best ambassadors, men and women with a track record of achievement in diplomacy, to represent our nation around the world--just as we do for our military, development and intelligence professionals.”

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  • Updated on 06/30/10.