Bush's patronage appointments to ambassador exceed father's, Clinton's

During the presidency of George W. Bush, nearly four out of every 10 of his nominees for ambassador have been “non-career appointees” — or what many would consider “political” appointees. Neither his father nor President Clinton had such a high percentage.

President Bush’s 36 percent rate exceeds the 29 percent of President Clinton’s ambassadorial nominees who were non-career appointees. During George Herbert Walker Bush’s presidency, about 31 percent were non-career appointees.

According to a Scholars & Rogues examination of records at the Office of the Historian of the Department of State, George W. Bush has made 370 ambassadorial nominations — of which 133 have been non-career appointees rather than career Foreign Service officers. President Clinton’s 431 nominations included 127 non-career appointees. The first President Bush made 272 nominations, of which 85 were non-career appointees.

A few caveats: President Bush has about 19 months remaining in office. His father served only one term. During the early ’90s, the United States recognized about 20 new governments with most receiving Foreign Service careerists as ambassadors, mostly named by George H.W. Bush and continued by President Clinton.

Many of George W. Bush’s nominees have been significant donors to his election campaigns or have personal and political connections to the president.

Consider the U.S. ambassador to Canada, David H. Wilkins. (No relation to me.)

President Bush nominated him in 2005. He’s been a South Carolina state legislator. He’s a friend of President George H.W. Bush and raised more than $200,000 for President George W. Bush in the 2004 election. Ambassador Wilkins and his immediate family contributed $33,050 to Republicans over the course of the 2000, 2002 and 2004 election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Apparently, he’d only been to Canada once — 30 years before his appointment — as part of military service.

President Bush nominated Michael M. Wood as ambassador to Sweden in 2006. He knew President Bush, too. He used to ride mountain bikes with the president and attended Yale with him. He was a fraternity brother of the president. Ambassador Wood made his money by founding Hanley Wood, a company that produces magazines for the construction industry.

Ambassador Wood’s predecessor, former Texas state Senator Teel Bivins, ambassador from 2004 to 2006, was a Bush Pioneer in 2000 and 2004. (Pioneers raised at least $100,000 for President Bush in the 2000 and 2004 campaigns. In 2004, Rangers and SuperRangers raised at least $200,000 or $300,000 respectively. This system was designed by Karl Rove, President Bush’s senior political adviser.)

Many other appointees nominated by President Bush followed this pattern of financial or political familiarity.

• Roland Edmond Arnall, nominated as ambassador to Netherlands in 2005. He and his wife, Dawn, gave $5 million to the Progress for America Voter Fund (which had to cough up $750,000 in a settlement with the Federal Elections Commission) in 2004 and were also $200,000 Ranger fundraisers for President Bush. Ambassador Arnall and his wife are co-chairs of Ameriquest Capital Corp., which gave $250,000 to President Bush’s inaugural.

Barbara Sobel, the wife of Ambassador Arnall’s predecessor, Clifford Sobel, is president of the Sobel Family Foundation and was a Bush 2000 Pioneer and a 2004 Ranger. The foundation gave $81,000 to GOP federal candidates and parties in the 2004 elections.)

• Roy Leslie Austin, nominated as ambassador to Trinidad & Tobago in 2001. He is one of 10 presidential appointments who were fellow members of Skull & Bones at Yale with President Bush. (So was George Herbert Walker III, ambassador to Hungary from 2003-2006. See more S&B membership.)

• Ann Louise Wagner, nominated as ambassador to Luxembourg in 2005. She had been chair of the Missouri Republican Party since 1999 and was briefly co-chair of the Republican National Committee. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Ambassador Wagner and her husband, a lobbying executive at Enterprise Rent-a-Car, became 2000 Bush Pioneers and 2004 Bush Rangers. “During the 2000, 2002 and 2004 election cycles,” says CRP, “Wagner and her husband gave $11,425 to Republican candidates and party committees, including $3,850 to Bush’s two presidential campaigns.”

• Eduardo Aguirre Jr., nominated as ambassador to Spain in 2005. While on the board of directors of the Bank of America, he met President George H.W. Bush — who asked him to serve as the Bush family banker during the Bush I presidency. According to the State Department, he served as the first director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an undersecretary position in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In 1992 Aguirre was appointed to the Texas Board of Regents by then-Governor Bush and served on the National Commission for Employment Policy under President Bush’s father. Ambassador Aguirre’s predecessor in Spain, George Argyros, wrote a $100,000 check to the Bush-Cheney inaugural committee. He also was a 2000 Bush Pioneer.

• Robert Davis McCallum Jr., nominated as ambassador to Australia in 2006. Another Skull & Bones member, he gave $12,350 to the GOP from 1999 to 2004. Ambassador McCallum formerly represented tobacco company R.J. Reynolds. “In the 2004 cycle, the tobacco industry, including former client R.J. Reynolds, gave almost $3.7 million to federal candidates, 75% of which went to Republicans,” says CRP.

• John Price, appointed ambassador to Mauritius from 2002 to 2005. He was one of President Bush’s most significant moneymen, raising and donating nearly $700,000. From CRP: “Price, the chairman and CEO of JP Realty, Inc., a Salt Lake City-based shopping mall development company, contributed $362,161 to Republican candidates and party committees during the 2000 election cycle, including $2,000 to the Bush campaign. After the election, Price gave another $5,000 to the Bush-Cheney recount fund, matching the voluntary limit set by the Bush team, followed by another $5,000 maximum donation to the Bush-Cheney transition fund. Price maxed out once again with a $100,000 gift to the Bush-Cheney Inaugural Committee.”

A side note about Ambassador Price: “[A] Utah jury found guilty in a 2001 civil case of ‘intentionally deceptive’ practices in cheating two former business partners out of almost $1 million from a New Mexico shopping-mall deal in 1994.”

• Sam Fox would have been a recess appointment as ambassador to Belgium. Mr. Fox “donated $50,000 to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The group aired TV ads that questioned the service of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in Vietnam and contributed to his defeat by Bush in 2004,” says USAToday. Mr. Fox and his wife “have contributed nearly $1.5 million to Republican campaigns and conservative causes since the 2000 election.” He was a Bush 2000 Pioneer and a 2004 Ranger. Mr. Fox founded the multi-billion-dollar investment firm Harbour Group, according to the CRP. President Bush withdrew his nomination, less than an hour before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was to consider it, because of the furor over Mr. Fox’s Swift Boat connection.

Mr. Fox would have replaced Tom C. Korologos. He and his immediate family made $111,300 in political contributions over the 2000, 2002 and 2004 election cycles. Ambassador Korologos replaced Stephen Brauer: “Closer to home, Brauer and his wife, Camilla, personally contributed more than $308,000 to federal parties and candidates during the 1999-2000 election cycle, every cent of which went to Republicans. That doesn’t include another $100,000 Brauer contributed to the Bush-Cheney Inaugural Fund or the $5,000 he donated to Bush’s Florida recount fund,” says CRP.

Actually, Ambassador Korologos would have replaced Jeffrey A. Marcus, a part-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, whose nomination as ambassador to Belgium was not acted on by the Senate. Mr. Marcus has been a hunting companion of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Other non-career nominees who have significant financial or political connections to President Bush include:

Nancy Brinker (Hungary; 2000 Pioneer), W.L. Brown Jr. (Austria; 2000 Pioneer), Richard Egan (Ireland; 2000 Pioneer, 2004 Ranger), Russell Freeman (Belize; 2000 Pioneer), Tony Gioia (Malta; 2000 Pioneer), Hans Hertell (Dominican Republic; 2000 Pioneer), Robert W. Jordan (Saudi Arabia; 2000 Pioneer), Frank Lavin (Singapore; 2000 Pioneer), Howard Leach (France; 2000 Pioneer), John Ong (Norway; 2000 Pioneer), John Palmer (Portugal; 2000 Pioneer), Mercer Reynolds III (Switzerland, 2000 Pioneer), John Rood (Bahamas; 2000 Pioneer, 2004 Ranger), Rockwell Schnabel (European Union; 2000 Pioneer), Martin Silverstein (Uruguay; 2000, 2004 Pioneer), Craig Stapleton (Czech Republic; 2004 Pioneer), Charles Swindells (New Zealand; 2000 Pioneer), Peter Terpeluk Jr. (Luxembourg; 2000 Pioneer), Ronald Weiser (Slovak Republic; 2000 Pioneer) and Aldona Wos (Estonia; 2004 Ranger). (See list of all Bush appointees who have been Pioneers or Rangers.)

Not all nominees to ambassadorships end up serving. Occasionally, the Senate does not act on a nomination. Some are withdrawn. Rarely, a nominee dies before arriving on post. The names of some non-career appointees in all three administrations are familiar: former senators and representatives in Congress, for example. Non-career appointees have generally served shorter terms, about two years or less, compared with Foreign Service officers, about three or four years.

It is obviously not uncommon for presidents to make political appointments to ambassadorial posts to reward supporters. (See this Foreign Service Journal critique of political appointees: “Speaking Out: Political appointees: a cost-benefit analysis.”)

Alan D. Berlind, a retired Foreign Service officer writing in American Diplomacy, thinks such patronage appointments to diplomatic posts do not serve the nation well.

[T]he day will dawn when our elected leaders rediscover the need for dialogue and reasonable accommodation in our international relationships. When that happens, the job of repairing the enormous damage done to those relationships and restoring our reputation, credit, and influence in the world will fall in large part to America’s diplomats, most particularly, American ambassadors, i.e., the senior representatives of the American government and people abroad. What better time, then, to re-examine the almost uniquely American practice of including among those representatives large numbers of people only rarely qualified for the job.

How often has it been asked, rhetorically but reasonably, whether it would make any more sense to assign businessmen, campaign contributors or professors to senior military or naval command positions ordinarily manned by generals or admirals? Any more sense than it does to place them at the helm of American embassies?

If you wish to equate “non-career appointee” with “political payback,” then President George W. Bush has made more use of ambassadorships as prized plums than his father or President Clinton. It’s also true that if one digs deeply into his father’s appointees or President Clinton’s, one will find a similar taste of political payback to big-money donors.

But President Bush II appears to have provided ambassadorships to his backers to an egregious extent. After all, he has numerous big-money donors to reward. According to Public Citizen and Texans for Public Justice, “For the 2004 campaign, there are 221 Rangers and 327 Pioneers, so far. In the 2000 campaign, 550 fundraisers signed up to be Pioneers, and at least 241 of them reached their goal.”

By the way, if you’re a big-time political donor to presidential campaigns who’s finally hit that ambassadorial mother lode, here are tips for first-time political appointees.

And here’s a shopping list of countries whose ambassadors have been exclusively or a majority non-career appointees during these three presidential administrations:

Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, France, Grenada, Holy See (The Vatican, Hungary, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Liechenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Romania, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Vincent & Grenadines, Samoa and San Marino.

Let the bidding begin.

xpost: 5th Estate

18 comments on “Bush's patronage appointments to ambassador exceed father's, Clinton's

  1. Holy Good God. That is unbelievable.

    I knew about Arnall from covering Ameriquest’s fall, and we’ve all seen how extensive political appointments have led to cronyism in almost every agency, but…man. This is horrible. Bush has crippled the system so completely through patronage and corruption that it will take DECADES to undo all this.

    I don’t know whether to congratulate you on such meticulous excellence, or weep at the end result. Maybe both.

  2. Denny,

    I’m suspicious. David Wilkins is ambassador to Canada. You live near Canada. Both of your first names start with the letter “D.” I’m investigating. ;-)

    In all seriousness, thanks for this magnificent piece.

  3. You shortchanged the list….
    there have been 3 Bush non-career appointments as Ambassador to the Czech Republic

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  5. You forgot the president’s old “boy friend” Victor Ashe. W and Victor used to have sex parties together. I don’t know if he donated much money but he did perform other services for the bush crime family..

  6. Denny,

    A fine piece of reporting.

    Does your talent pass through office walls? If it does, I’m on the other side and waiting…

  7. Great reporting. Unfortunately, what else can we expect from the self serving Bush administration.

    All I can do as an es-pat, Nam era Vet residing in Europe is vote.
    I support John Edwards. Perhaps he can patch up the European – U.S. rift.

    I am also a nephew of the late scum bag, William Roscoe Kintner, the machiavellian who introduced Nixon to Kissinger during Nam.

    Now, Kintner was a political nominee who ordered the bombings on Hanoi during the Paris Peace Talks. Nixon took the heat for it, but had Kintner rightfully removed from the Ambassador post to Thailand.

    At the same time, Kintner buddy George P. Bush was ambassador to China.

    Bizarre shit with the republicans has been going on for a long time.
    The Hatch act is meaningless.

    I pray for an Edwards victory in the primaries and the general election.

    Kent O. Doering

  8. Thanks for the link to my post “Tips for First Time Political Appointee Ambassadors” on WV. A few of them might learn a thing or two – if they read it. My view, however, is that it would save the taxpayers a lot of money if most, if not all, of the political slots were abolished. The problem is that both parties use them to pay off political debts.

    Kent – your uncle was the second political I worked for under the Nixon administration at the end of the Vietnam War. (I was a junior officer at USIS Bangkok at the time.) It was, shall I say, a trip. I also worked for Rockwell Schnabel in Helsinki during Bush II – the rare moments he was there.

    I’d add Finland to the list of mostly political appointees, too. Much of the time, fortunately, when I served there they were back in the US tending their own businesses and the Embassy was run by able career Deputy Chiefs of Mission. The most respected US Ambassadors by the Finns were two career officers who had served there earlier.

    Alan Berlind’s article was excellent – glad you highlighted it.

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  13. I don’t drop a great deal of comments, but after looking at a few of the remarks on this page Bush’s patronage appointments to ambassador exceed father’s, Clinton’s |
    Scholars and Rogues. I do have 2 questions for you if it’s okay. Could it be just me or do some of these comments come across like they are coming from brain dead visitors? :-P And, if you are posting on other online sites, I’d like to keep up with you.
    Could you make a list of all of your social sites like your linkedin
    profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

    • Josephine,

      Yes on the brain dead. I write only here. You can follow me at @docdenny. Thanks for the comment.

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