Bundle for Obama, See the World!

| April 29 2012
Christopher Cook

If you’re wondering about the criteria by which the Obama Administration selects its ambassadorial appointments, a lot of notions might cross your mind:

  • Fluency with the language, perhaps?
  • A deep knowledge of and abiding interest in the culture, history, and people of the nation in question?
  • A resume that starts with Model U.N. in high school, goes through years of graduate and post graduate education in foreign affairs, and continues with years of faithful service at the Department of State?

Or, do you just have to goad a bunch of people into giving a bunch of money to the president’s reelection campaign?

D.C. lawyer Timothy Broas, who has funneled more money to the political campaigns of President Obama than nearly anyone else, last week was recommended by Mr. Obama as the next U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands.

As a campaign “bundler,” Mr. Broas collected more than a half-million dollars for Mr. Obama’s 2012 campaign, raising money from family members, colleagues and other wealthy associates; four years ago, he assisted Mr. Obama’s successful bid for the presidency by raising between $200,000 and $500,000.

According to a study by the Center for Public Integrity, this is a common practice for the Obama Administration, and it doesn’t just involve ambassadorial posts.

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.

This from the administration that promised to be the most transparent in history, that promised to banish the influence of money and special interests from politics.

Apparently, Obama even criticized this particular practice directly:

When he announced his presidential intentions in 2007, candidate Obama decried “the cynics, the lobbyists, the special interests who’ve turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” He indignantly singled out “the best bundlers” who get the “greatest access” to power.

They write the checks and you get stuck with the bill, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we’re here today to take it back,” he said.

And then he became president. He and his supporters took back the government, and he immediately gave it to whoever gives him a bunch of money.

The iWatch News investigation found:

• Overall, 184 of 556, or about one-third, of Obama bundlers or their spouses joined the administration in some role. But the percentages are much higher for the big-dollar bundlers. Nearly 80 percent of those who collected more than $500,000 for Obama took “key administration posts,” as defined by the White House. More than half the ambassador nominees who were bundlers raised more than half a million.

• The big bundlers had broad access to the White House for meetings with top administration officials and glitzy social events. In all, campaign bundlers and their family members account for more than 3,000 White House meetings and visits. Half of them raised $200,000 or more.

• Some Obama bundlers have ties to companies that stand to gain financially from the president’s policy agenda, particularly in clean energy and telecommunications, and some already have done so. Level 3 Communications, for instance, snared $13.8 million in stimulus money. At least 18 other bundlers have ties to businesses poised to profit from government spending to promote clean energy, telecommunications and other key administration priorities.

This is a practice that has happened in other administrations, but according to the Center for Public Integrity, Obama is well beyond his predecessors, appointing more big bundlers to government positions in his first two years than his predecessor did in eight. And the practice is continuing for bundlers for his 2012 campaign:

Moreover, “at least 68 of 350 Obama bundlers for the 2012 election or their spouses have served in the administration in some capacity; at least 250 of the bundlers visited the White House, and another 30 have ties to companies that conduct business with federal agencies or hope to do so in the future,” according to a recent iWatch News report. Several first-time 2012 bundlers already have snagged administration posts:

– Norma Lee Funger, of Potomac, Md., who raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama, was appointed last month to the board of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

– Glenn S. Gerstell, of Washington, D.C., who bundled the same amount, was appointed to the National Infrastructure Advisory Commission last fall.

– Richard Binder, of Bethesda, Md., another $50,000 to $100,000 bundler, was appointed to the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health last spring.

And note: The most transparent administration ever still refuses to disclose recusal orders involving the nearly 100 lobbyists and ex-lobbyists on its payroll.

Sometimes, if you’re really good at bundling, you get a two-fer: an ambassadorial appointment AND millions of dollars of taxpayer money funneled to your company.

Telecom executive Donald H. Gips raised a big bundle of cash to help finance his friend Barack Obama’s run for the presidency.

Gips, a vice president of Colorado-based Level 3 Communications LLC, delivered more than $500,000 in contributions for the Obama war chest, while two fellow senior company executives collected at least $150,000 more.

After the election, Gips was put in charge of hiring in the Obama White House, helping to place loyalists and fundraisers in many key positions. Then in mid-2009, the new president named him ambassador to South Africa. Level 3 Communications, in which Gips retained stock, meanwhile received millions of dollars of government stimulus contracts for broadband projects in six states—though Gips said he was “completely unaware” of the stimulus money.

It doesn’t much matter if you’re qualified or not, either:

In the past, not all of those who have been appointed to prestigious diplomatic posts after raising campaign funds have proven qualified for those jobs.

A State Department investigation tied 2008 bundler-turned-Bahamas Ambassador Nicole Avant to “dysfunctional leadership and mismanagement, which has caused problems throughout the embassy” since she was appointed by President Obama, Foreign Policy magazine reported.

Mrs. Avant has since rejoined the ranks of Obama bundlers, having raised the better part of a million dollars from her Beverly Hills home this election cycle, after resigning from her Caribbean assignment in November.

Of course, the Center for Public integrity provides plenty more examples beyond those enumerated above.

Imagine being a government official in the Netherlands or the Bahamas. Suddenly, you learn that the next ambassador from the most powerful nation in the world got the post not because of skill, knowledge, or abiding ties to your nation, but because he or she gave the president a lot of money. A president who got elected promising to end that very sort of behavior.

The Netherlands isn’t some tiny island somewhere, whose role is primarily limited to providing white sands, gorgeous blue water, and rum drinks served in pineapples. No offense to such island nations, but the Netherlands is a player on the world stage, an important trading partner, and an ally in the global war on Islamic terrorism. They were the first to loan us money for the Revolution, for goodness’ sake. And now they’ll get one of Obama’s bundlers as our ambassador.

Somewhere out there in the heartland of America, someone with an upper-midwest accent is asking, “How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out for ya?”

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