A veteran Goldman Sachs & Co. executive and major fundraiser for President Barack Obama has been nominated as the next ambassador to Canada — the latest in a parade of big-dollar campaign backers slated to represent U.S. interests abroad.
Chicago-based Bruce Heyman raised more than $750,000 for Obama’s committees since 2007, along with his wife, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of records.
Heyman’s nomination is a sort of milestone for the White House: During his second term, Obama has now tapped 20 campaign bundlers for ambassadorships. Together, these moneymen and women raised at least $13.8 million — and likely much more — for Obama’s political committees since 2007, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s research.
Two men — attorney Kirk W.B. Wagar and Matthew Barzun, who served as Obama’s 2012 national finance chairman — each bundled at least $1.2 million for Obama’s committees over the years, records show, placing them atop the list of most prolific embassy-bound fundraisers.
Wagar is the U.S. ambassador to Singapore, while Barzun now represents the country in the United Kingdom.
On Sept. 10 alone, Obama selected three bundlers for diplomatic positions: hotel magnate George Tsunis for Norway, private equity executive Anthony Luzzatto Gardner for the European Union and attorney Michael A. Lawson for the United Nations' Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Tsunis and Gardner each raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s 2012 re-election efforts, while Lawson and his wife together raised at least $950,000 for Obama since his 2008 campaign.
When he was running for president in 2008, Obama pledged to be a different kind of politician and stressed his “commitment to changing the way business is done in Washington.” The custom of elevating top donors and fundraisers to plum diplomatic posts — a practice embraced by Democratic and Republican presidents for generations — wasn’t touched, however.
This has prompted criticism from many career diplomats and good-government groups, even as Obama’s overall rate of appointing non-career ambassadors has remained in-line with those of previous administrations — about one in three, according to the American Foreign Service Association, the labor union and trade association for career diplomats. So far in Obama's second term, it's about one in two.
“Now is the time to end the spoils system and the de facto ‘three-year rental’ of ambassadorships,” extolls the American Foreign Service Association website. “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.”
The group maintains that it is “difficult” for the country “to attract, train, retain and deploy a professional cadre” of envoys “if the majority of key senior diplomatic positions at home and abroad are reserved for political appointees.”
Added Craig Holman, a lobbyist for consumer group Public Citizen: “Diplomatic missions should never be treated as plum posts to be handed out as a reward to campaign fundraisers.”
Research by the Center for Public Integrity shows that most of Obama’s political money bundlers are slated for diplomatic posts in Western Europe, including Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands.