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Obama names another bundler to be ambassador to Luxembourg

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President Obama at a 2008 campaign rally.

Greg Wahl-Stephens/Associated Press

Six months after a major Obama fundraiser abruptly quit her post as ambassador to Luxembourg in the wake of a blistering critique of her performance, the White House has nominated another big campaign donor to take her place.

Obama had first appointed Cynthia Stroum, a Seattle businesswoman who raised more than $500,000 for his 2008 campaign, to the coveted job in September 2009. She resigned in January after an internal report blasted her management, saying among other things that career staff wanted to get away from her so badly they were requesting transfers to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House has nominated Florida real estate developer Robert A. Mandell to take her place. Like Stroum, Mandell is an Obama bundler, one of an elite corps of fundraisers who collect from $50,000 to more than $500,000 from friends and business associates. Mandell raised more than $200,000 for the 2008 Obama campaign, records show.

A recent investigation by iWatch News found that Obama has appointed two dozen of his 2008 bundlers as ambassadors, despite a campaign promise to curtail the influence of big donors and other special interests in Washington. In all, nearly 200 Obama bundlers have landed government jobs and advisory posts, won federal contracts worth millions for dollars for their business interests or attended numerous elite White House meetings and social events, the investigation found.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said of the appointment, "Robert Mandell has a strong combination of private sector and public service experience. Past support of the President does not guarantee you a job but it doesn’t disqualify you from getting one either.”

The ambassadors appointed by Obama tend to cluster among the most generous donors. Fourteen of the 24 bundlers appointed as ambassadors raised more than $500,000 each.

No organization has tracked whether most political appointees turn out to be good fits for these jobs, but the longstanding practice of handing them to major donors has been criticized.

Thomas Switzer, a spokesman for the American Foreign Service Association in Washington, said political appointments of ambassadors can amount to the “selling of ambassadorships to large political campaign contributors.” The practice, he said, “is not in the best national interest, nor that of the U.S. diplomatic service.”

The group believes that all ambassadors must possess the basic qualifications for such complex duty and Switzer cited a 1980 federal law states that political contributions should not be a factor in these decisions.

Mandell is chairman and CEO of Greater Properties, Inc., a commercial real estate firm in Central Florida.  In 2010, Obama appointed him to the President’s Export Council, according to his White House biography.  His resume lists no experience in diplomatic matters. He could not be reached for comment.

The press release announcing Mandell’s appointment also lists Thomas C. Krajeski, a career foreign service officer, as Obama’s pick for ambassador to Bahrain.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mandell will be stepping into a job widely regarded in diplomatic circles as cushy. But the previous occupant found it less than comfortable.

Stroum was the subject of an unflattering State Department internal report made public in January. The report criticized her “confrontational management style” and poor management and said both had led to “serious inefficiencies.” It also cited comments from employees describing her as “aggressive, bullying, hostile and intimidating.”

Reached by phone at her Seattle office recently, Stroum asked for questions in writing. In response, she sent iWatch News an email that stated: “I supported Barack Obama for President and I absolutely support his re-election for a second term.  It was an unexpected honor to be nominated by the President and a great privilege to serve the Obama Administration and my country as Ambassador.”