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, and 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