Will U.S. ambassadors be pros or patrons under Obama?

By Laurie Bennett

December 8, 2008 at 10:20am

The Obama team has notified all politically appointed U.S. ambassadors that they’re to submit their resignations as of Jan. 20.

As the biggest money-raiser to ever run for president, is Barack Obama getting ready to repay his supporters, or is he preparing to name top-notch diplomats to the posts?

If he’s like his predecessors - Republicans and Democrats - the answer will be some of both.

Most of the diplomatic corps is made up of career Foreign Service employees with daunting resumes. They have degrees from Oxford and Harvard, they’re multilingual and they’ve written extensively on topics such as colonial Venezuala and the economic consequences of African coups d’etat.

But there are also appointments traditionally reserved for big donors and party loyalists. These embassies are usually located in the capital cities of trusted neighbors, old European allies or tropical paradises.

Plum political posts in the George W. Bush administration have included the Bahamas, Bermuda, Costa Rica, Canada, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Among those who’ve landed jobs through donations and political loyalties, rather than foreign diplomatic experience:

    David F. Girard-diCarlo, ambassador to Austria. Former chairman of the Blank Rome law firm, Girard-diCarlo was a major supporter of Bush in 2004 and a bundler for John McCain in 2008. He assumed the post in July 2008, succeeding another political appointee, Susan McCaw, wife of telecom baron Craig McCaw and and a big GOP fundraiser.

    David H. Wilkins, ambassador to Canada. Wilkins, former speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives, was the state chairman for the 2004 Bush campaign.

    Peter Cianchette, ambassador to Costa Rica. Cianchette, an unsuccessful candidate for governor of Maine in 2002, was state chairman of the Bush 2004 effort.

    Molly Bordonaro, ambassador to Malta. Bordonaro chaired the Pacific states for Bush 2000, and the Northwest for Bush 2004. She also served as a director of Fannie Mae.

    Roland E. Arnall, former ambassador to the Netherlands. The billionaire founder of Ameriquest Mortgage Co. was a big donor to Bush in 2004. He died in March 2008, and was succeeded by James B. Culbertson, who headed the North Carolina campaign for Bush in 2000 and 2004.

    William P. McCormick, ambassador to New Zealand. McCormick, co-founder of McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants, was a bundler for Bush in 2004.

    Benson K. Whitney, ambassador to Norway. Whitney was Minnesota finance chair for Bush 2004 and for the Republican National Committee.

    Mercer Reynolds III, former ambassador to Switzerland. Reynolds, chairman of Reynolds, DeWitt and Company, was a bundler for Bush and McCain. The Switzerland post is now held by Peter R. Coneway, a Bush supporter who is a former general partner of Goldman Sachs.

    Cesar B. Cabrera, ambassador to Mauritius. Cabrera, former executive director of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico, was also a Freddie Mac director.

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