Top Obama Fundraisers Get Posts
WASHINGTON — More than 40% of President Obama's top-level fundraisers have secured posts in his administration, from key executive branch jobs to diplomatic postings in countries such as France, Spain and the Bahamas, a USA TODAY analysis finds.
Twenty of the 47 fundraisers that Obama's campaign identified as collecting more than $500,000 have been named to government positions, the analysis found.
Overall, about 600 individuals and couples raised money from their friends, family members and business associates to help fund Obama's presidential campaign. USA TODAY's analysis found that 54 have been named to government positions, ranging from Cabinet and White House posts to advisory roles, such as serving on the economic recovery board charged with helping guide the country out of recession.
Nearly a year after he was elected on a pledge to change business-as-usual in Washington, Obama also has taken a cue from his predecessors and appointed fundraisers to coveted ambassadorships, drawing protests from groups representing career diplomats. A separate analysis by the American Foreign Service Association, the diplomats' union, found that more than half of the ambassadors named by Obama so far are political appointees, said Susan Johnson, president of the association. An appointment is considered political if it does not go to a career diplomat in the State Department.
That's a rate higher than any president in more than four decades, the group's data show, although that could change as the White House fills more openings. Traditionally about 30% of top diplomatic jobs go to political appointees, and roughly 70% to veteran State Department employees. Ambassadors earn $153,200 to $162,900 annually.
"It is time to end the spoils system and the de facto sale of ambassadorships," Johnson said. "The United States is best served by having experienced, knowledgeable and trained career officers fill all positions in our diplomatic service."
Vietor said Obama also made it clear early on that he would "nominate extremely qualified individuals who didn't necessarily come up through the ranks of the State Department but want to serve their country."
Among the top Obama fundraisers with jobs: former technology executive Julius Genachowski as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and Nicole Avant, a music industry executive who is the top envoy in the Bahamas. Neither granted interview requests.
Those not in the administration benefited in other ways, including attending invitation-only White House bashes, such as a St. Patrick's Day gala.
Fundraiser David Gail, a Dallas lawyer that the campaign identified as raising between $100,000 and $200,000, joined dignitaries in July for an East Room country music concert featuring Alison Krauss and Charley Pride. He said he greeted Obama after the event but doesn't have special access to the president, who was elected on a pledge to change business-as-usual in Washington.
"I've seen people who have been included on conference calls or events who were very involved at the grass-roots level," Gail said.
"Contributing doesn't guarantee a visit to the White House," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday, "nor does it preclude it."
Others not on the campaign's list of official bundlers also have reaped rewards.
Sacramento developer Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, a fundraiser in Hillary Rodham Clinton's unsuccessful presidential campaign, was nominated this month by Obama to serve as ambassador to Hungary. Clinton is now secretary of state.
It's too early to tell how big a role Obama's fundraisers will play. On the ambassador front alone, nearly 100 top positions remain unfilled, according to the American Foreign Service Association's tally.
Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, wants Obama to limit political appointees to about 10% of diplomatic jobs. "The direction is not good," he said of Obama's appointments to date, "but you cannot definitively say what the picture will be for the whole administration."
FROM FUNDRAISER TO STAFFER
** Nominated, not yet confirmed by Senate
*** National finance chairwoman
Sources: Obama campaign, Public Citizen; White House; USA TODAY research
ACADEMY OF DIPLOMACY