- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

President Obama’s campaign to bring change to the nation’s capital hasn’t kept him from continuing the Washington tradition of handing out ambassadorships to political friends and fundraisers.

An old college roommate, the head of an entertainment production company and a lawyer whose family made its money selling vacuum cleaners are among more than a dozen people who have won ambassadorships after raising a total of at least $4 million for Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign, according to public records.

The practice has been common for both political parties.

Since the Kennedy administration, presidents have given political appointees about 30 percent of the roughly 170 ambassadorships globally. While analysts say it’s too early to say how Mr. Obama’s administration will compare, government watchdog groups contend that the practice seems at odds with the president’s populist rhetoric against “special interests.”

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“Awarding ambassadorships and other government posts to major campaign donors highlights the systematic corruption in privately financed campaigns,” said Craig Holman, a spokesman for Public Citizen, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group. “It is reprehensible that any government positions in the United States are awarded based on money rather than merit.”

Mary Boyle, spokeswoman for Common Cause, another watchdog group, said, “The reality is big givers expect something back, and candidates typically reward big givers.”

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Mr. Obama’s nominees are qualified.

“The president said in January he would nominate extremely qualified individuals like [John] Roos, former Congressman Tim Roemer and Miguel Diaz, who didn’t necessarily come up through the ranks of the State Department but want to serve their country in important diplomatic posts,” he said in a June 30 e-mail.

Mr. Roos, a lawyer, is the nominee for ambassador to Japan. Mr. Roemer was nominated to be ambassador in India. Mr. Diaz, a theology professor at St. John’s University, was nominated as ambassador to the Vatican. All three are political appointments, but only Mr. Roos was a fundraiser for Mr. Obama.

Asked whether appointing fundraisers to ambassadorships squares with Mr. Obama’s pledge to bring change to Washington, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that the president is appointing a mix of qualified people.

“I think you see a group of committed individuals and proven professionals that are eager to serve their country,” Mr. Gibbs said. “Some of those individuals were fundraisers; some of those were career ambassadors; some of those were people that left either teaching or some other thing like that.”

Before his inauguration, Mr. Obama told reporters he planned to have “some political appointees serving abroad.”

“It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that there are not going to be some excellent public servants, but who haven’t come through the ranks of civil service,” he said.

Nominees raised millions

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