Donors and Diplomats

They’re called “bundlers”.  That’s the name given to people who, through their own donations and the donations of their very wealthy friends, amass huge contributions for political candidates and their campaigns.   Once in a while, if the bundle is large enough,  these donors are rewarded for their efforts.   Hit the right dollar amount and you just might be named ambassador to some country where your duties will require no more skills than the ability to host even more great dinner parties.   You’re never going to be assigned to a country that has any real diplomacy issues with the United States.  Those jobs will go to people who actually know what they’re doing, who have served in some real diplomatic way  and acquired the necessary experience to see to it that they don’t get the United States into trouble.   So, don’t worry, the President of The United States, whoever he may be, knows better than to put some high-roller, and us, in harm’s way.

We shouldn’t be surprised then, that one of the names being bandied about for one of these thank you gifts is Anna Wintour, Editor in Chief of Vogue magazine.   Stop laughing, right now.  She raised a lot of money for the President’s campaign and she should get some sort of recognition for it, even if it’s nothing more taxing than being the Ambassador to the Court of St. James.   It’s not like she can mess anything up over there.  We’re on great terms with the British and they just love the fashion industry.   Okay, so she’s not exactly the warmest, most welcoming individual.  She doesn’t have to be.   She’s rich and famous and has a lot of friends who are rich and famous.    This is exactly why she’s perfect for the job.  The State Department doesn’t have a lot of money for entertaining, so asking people who already have plenty of their own to become Ambassadors to friendly countries is a bonus in the qualifications’ department.  She also likes to wear those great big sunglasses and that kind of makes her look like some high-end government official who keeps State secrets.  Besides, Donald Trump is endorsing her for the position, so what more do you need?

Anna could throw fabulous parties and everybody who’s anybody would come.    She could even write off some of those soirees on her tax returns if what’s discussed falls under the heading of business entertaining.  Let’s say that Anna talks to Donatella Versace or John Galliano about the Queen’s personal fashion style, which, seeing as how she’s a little old lady, looks a little old lady-ish.  Bingo!  Anna’s improving the relationship between the two countries and working on updating Her Majesty’s wardrobe all at the same time.  You could make a reasonable argument that she’s also making great strides on issues of trade and globalization.  See where I’m going with this?  It’s a win-win situation.  Anna wouldn’t even have to quit her day job, unless she wants to or the President makes her quit.  She could still run the magazine during the day and have her get-togethers in the evening.   It’s not as if there’s going to be  much work during the day at the Embassy.  Dictate a few thank-you notes, have your secretary check on the caterer for that evening’s cocktail party and clock out by noon.   There’s still time to make the runways for London’s Fashion week, give your stamp of approval for photographs and editorials,  and check in on your favorite designers.

I don’t mean to single out the fabulous Ms. Wintour as the only big donor to ever get such an esteemed, albeit worthless, position and President Obama isn’t the first President to make these kinds of appointments.  He does have an edge over past Presidents, however, with 44% of  the top 185 ambassadorial positions going to political allies – Presidents Bush and Clinton appointed 30% and 28%, respectively, but I think elections cost more now, or they just spend more or something like that.  On average, 25-30% of these posts go to donors rather than career diplomats.  I guess if you get more money, you probably have more people to thank, so that might very well be why the percentage is higher than it’s been in the past.  On the other hand, maybe the world is just 14% more peaceful since Bush and Clinton left office.

Okay, whatever.  I lost track of where I was going.  Oh, right,  I was thinking about some of those Ambassadors.  I have some examples from the last three administrations.  President Clinton wasn’t quite as grateful or generous as his successors but one really obvious donor driven choice was that of wealthy socialite Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman, who served in France.   Pamela’s experiences with foreign affairs were from her numerous, more personal ones – aside from her three husbands, there were at least six, uh, consorts, including one of the Whitneys, Edward R. Murrow and Prince Aly Khan.   All in all, it sounds like she had a pretty good lay of the land.   Maybe that’s what Clinton admired about her.  President Bush also liked to thank some of his good old boys  for their hefty checks, and a number of embassies were filled with W’s fellow Skull & Bones Club members.  He also named a former Goldman Sachs’ executive to one of the embassies, but just about every President has picked someone from the “too big to fail” banking giant, so that really doesn’t count for much.   President Obama has stepped it up a bit and now we have an Ambassador in Switzerland who owns a Volvo dealership in Virginia.   Ireland is in the capable hands of Dan Rooney, chairman emeritus of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Representing us in Finland is Bruce Oreck, the heir to all of that vacuum cleaner money, File:MP 088.jpgand as of right now, France and Monaco are being handled by Charles Rivkin, who once ran Jim Henson productions.    France is also one of the other countries for which Ms. Wintour’s talents are being considered.  By the way, that’s Mr. Rivkin’s friend and former employee, Miss Piggy, wearing what I think  – or what I hope, for the sake of world peace – is vintage Chanel, posing in front of the Eiffel Tower.  Vive Les Muppets!

I’m going to save some money and make a contribution to the candidate of my choice in four years.  I don’t know if I can bundle up enough, but I’ll put a donation jar on my front porch and see what happens.  In return, I’d like to become an Ambassador, too.  I’ve been thinking that the good people of the Turks and Caicos could really use my skill-set.  I don’t mind throwing a few parties, and I’ve even considered putting our horses to work for the good of our Country – and to write off some of their food, housing and health care costs.  Nothing says diplomacy like a (free)ride on the beach.

“It is no coincidence that the best bundlers are often granted the greatest access, and access is power in Washington.  Special interests have turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” –  Sen. Barack Obama, 2007


This entry was posted in In The News, Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Donors and Diplomats

  1. Belle says:

    Empress, I would only change one word regarding Pamela…”she was a pretty good lay of the land” which sums up her skill set.

  2. Mary Beth says:

    That’s a bit misleading and unfair with regard to Don Beyer. Yes, he owns a Volvo dealership. But he was also the lieutenant governor of Virginia for 8 years. In 2008, he chaired the Transportation and Land Use working group of the Governor’s Virginia Commission on Climate Change. He was the president of the Virginia Senate in 2009. He led the Virginia Economic Recovery Commission in 1991-1992. In 1994-1995, Mr. Beyer chaired Virginia’s Poverty and Welfare Reform Commission. Since 1995 he has chaired Jobs for Virginia Graduates, the largest and most successful high school dropout prevention program in the state. He is the founding Chairman of the Alexandria Community Trust, Alexandria’s community foundation. For three years, from 2000-2002, Mr. Beyer was President of Youth for Tomorrow, the home for troubled adolescents founded by former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs. He has served as a member of the board of the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and has served on many other local and community boards.

    In short, he’s not just some rich guy. He has a long history of public service, going back to 1968, when he was named a Presidential Scholar.

    • Okay, I’ll get serious for a second. Most of the people who have been given these appointments are very accomplished and very involved members in myriad activities and groups – be it through community service, charitable organizations or political activism. Aside from a few who were born into the right families and inherited their wealth, a greater number of them built their own businesses or ran major corporations – for that they merited whatever accolades, positions or titles they managed to garner.
      Despite all of their personal and professional achievements, however, very little in their resumes translates to experience in foreign policy or diplomacy.
      Political patronage has been around for a lot longer than any of us have been on the planet, and I’m not going to pretend that these fine men and women have done anything more than be good soldiers to their respective political parties and make enormous donations to the right candidates for office. These are plum and cushy assignments, reserved for those who help make bank. It’s a long-standing tradition that neither the President making the appointment or the appointees themselves think twice about.
      As mth said downthread, I’m equally hard-pressed to believe that a country with a population of 314,000,000 can’t find truly qualified people to fill these positions. It must be very disheartening to actually serve one’s country for years, either overseas, or here at home, only to find out that someone with a much larger checkbook is going to fill a seat he or she really doesn’t deserve.
      If your real purpose for writing that check is to help your candidate get elected, then a card and autographed picture should be thanks enough.
      I’m going to check my donation jar now – it looks like there’s about $8 in it – and see what I need to pack for my tropical island assignment. 😉

      • Mary Beth says:

        I don’t disagree with anything you said. I just thought it was unfair to Don Beyer to imply that the only thing notable about him is rich guy who gave a lot of money. As for a card and an autographed photo – no thanks. I would be grateful if they would just stop sending me 20 e-mails per day.

  3. melthehound says:

    Hello Empress. You know how I am about certain things. I’m a firm believer that money buys political favor. This is just another example. While some of them may very well be qualified, as Mary Beth suggests, I’m sure there are equally and perhaps more qualified Non Donors running around this country. Even on the radar (meaning not unknowns). The WH occupant can choose whoever he wants I suppose but when these ‘jobs’ are handed out to large donors, it does raise eyebrows. I always ask people to follow the money when it comes to our politicians to find out who we are REALLY electing. Few do, it seems (and I’m talking about both sides of the ‘aisle’) and then, sometimes, people are surprised by who is ‘thanked’.

  4. Kaereste says:

    Ambassadorships have traditionally been gifts to donors. There job is to throw parties and not make trouble. Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman was probably 1000x more qualified than most Ambassadors. Isn’t she the one who died swimming in the Ritz Carlton pool?
    Anna Wintour is British. He father was the editor or publisher of one of the top London newspapers. I don’t know if she is now a citizen of the US.

    I think the message here is that nothing has changed. Ever. Despite the vaunted Hope & Change and full transparency. Politics is politics. It’s just a colossal game of scratch my back.

    Glad to see you blogging E of A.

    • Kaereste says:

      “Their” job. Sheesh.

    • Hi, K. Ah, politics – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – I’m practicing my French, just in case my assignment requires it.
      Yes, poor Pamela did succumb to a brain aneurysm during a dip at the Ritz in Paris. I’m sure Jacques Chirac took the news very badly.
      BTW, it’s good to be back at the keyboard. What I thought was a cold turned out to be bronchitis, but I’m now officially out the jammies and fuzzy slippers stage. 😀

  5. FLG says:

    For a very long time, it was traditional that these diplomatic positions were granted based almost solely upon birth, marriage and/or “pedigree”, although screwing the right people the right way helped a lot (Pamela). The surname had more value than the money raised (after all, most, but not all of the aristocracy had little but their titles and club memberships left), Thanks to pedigree (name recognition), usually the money would pass through their hands via backrooms at celebrations, to the campaign of the recipient/candidate and the family was guaranteed extended relevance, which they could then pass on to their offspring. There is more (wretch, wretch, which way to the loo?) transparency now…..or as I prefer to label it unbridled arrogance, In a way I guess that’s an improvement. It isn’t cloaked in secrecy so much anymore. Celebrity is trumping (no pun intended) the old generational dynasties, for the “usually powerless, title only” diplomatic corps. What continues to amaze me is how little the donations required are get one a position. In these days of billion dollar campaigns, $500,000.00 seems like such a small sum to get to the front of line. Welcome to our corporatocracy! It’s nothing really new. It used to be called fascism. The real money suppliers don’t want an Ambassadorship. Too much attention! It wouldn’t surprise me if Kim Kardashian became an Ambassador to some strife-free diplomatically insignificant country in 20 years. The real power brokers prefer to work behind the scenes where they get to dictate self-serving laws and regulations. That is where real power lies. Empress, get your tip jar really full by becoming a lobbyist rather than an Ambassador. Better yet become head of a “think tank” and don’t worry about your tip jar, it will fill itself. You’ll get your beachfront farm far more quickly and while you’re still young enough for you and your horses to enjoy it. The Donald is supporting Wintour? His support worked out well for Romney, didn’t it? The Donald said he was moving to Canada if Obama won this term. I haven’t heard yet if he and his organization are moving to Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, have you? I agree, there are more than 300 million inhabitants in our nation and our choices are unacceptably poor when it comes to electable candidates.

    • Kim Kardasahian, Ambassador to Kosovo? Kenya? Kazakhstan? Kuala Lumpur? 😀 If we’re going to dole out appointments to the highest bidder, we should move right along to the Cabinet and make Oprah Winfrey Secretary of State.
      As for the lobbyist idea, I might just hobble my fellow South Carolinian, Jim DeMint, and take that job at The Heritage Foundation before he even knows what hit him.

  6. Jewels says:

    Hello Empress:

    Another great blog, thank you.

    This is totally off topic so I apologize in advance. What caught my attention in this post and got me thinking was when you mentioned the Skull & Bones Club. Since you spent so much time here in CT I would love to hear your thoughts about it, especially because it’s so secretive but still pretty openly connected to the politics in our country. You always provide such insight, I bet it would be a great read for all.


    • Thank you for the very nice comment. Now, you’ve given me something to think about with the Skull & Bones bunch. I may have to do some poking around and see what I can come up with – there’s tons of theories and mystery surrounding them, that’s for sure. 😉

  7. Buttercream says:

    Skull and Bones … from Yale elite Club of wealthy families … then there’s the group in CA .. The Bohemian Club a/k/a The Grove? What do they all have in common? All Male, all the money behind the power of the movers and shakers in this country for decades … who’s the money behind the current occupier in the WH?
    Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman, she was one fascinating woman …. married to men with money and influence …
    Not surprised BO is nominating DeWintour Witch .. exposes BO for the umpteenth time of what a sham of an administration he’s running … if he offers her the post, hope she accepts as it will be fodder for the news media to follow her around London all day ..:-)

Comments are closed.