Barack Obama accused of 'renting out' ambassador roles Diplomats' anger over President Obama's appointment of dozens of wealthy campaign backers to top overseas jobs Paul Harris The Observer, Sunday 29 November 2009 Barack Obama is coming under fire for handing dozens of coveted ambassadorships to donors who raised millions for his presidential campaign. The diplomatic postings range from tiny island nations in the Caribbean to major political partners, such as France and Britain, and have raised the hackles of many American diplomats. The practice of appointing campaign donors instead of state department professionals has a long tradition in the US. However, many had hoped that Obama would reduce such displays of patronage. That has not happened. Since taking office, Obama has made almost 80 ambassadorial nominations, of which 56% went to political appointees. "It is time to end the spoils system and to stop renting out these ambassadorships for fabulous sums of money," said Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, which monitors the nominations. Johnson said Obama was on track to equal the number of such appointments made by President Bush. "It is business as usual," she said. Some Obama backers have been posted to glamorous European countries. Britain's new US ambassador is Louis Susman, who raised more than $500,000 for Obama. The new ambassador to France is Charles Rivkin, a former TV executive who helped raise $800,000, while Germany is getting Philip Murphy, an ex-finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee who has donated $1.9m to the party since 1989. Other political appointees have been aimed at less important countries, but ones where a few years in the sun might seem like an attractive proposition: Nicole Avant, who raised at least $800,000 for Obama, is the new ambassador appointed to the Bahamas. Anti-corruption groups say the practice sends a message that government posts can be bought by backing the right candidate in an election campaign. "It is an auction for donors. It is a way the administration has of rewarding them," said Josh Israel, a project co-ordinator for the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based watchdog group. The revelations fly in the face of Obama's election campaign promises to change the face of Washington and his pledge to rid the capital of its reputation for insider dealing and lavish spending. That is no easy task and Obama's efforts to clean up the city have already been damaged by coverage of the extraordinary access that many top bankers enjoy to senior members of his administration. Obama's reputation for meaningful change was also further tarnished by the coverage of last week's first state dinner for the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh. Many commentators frowned on the lavishness of the exercise at a time when millions of Americans are out of work. White House officials say there is nothing wrong with making political appointments and insist they are not influenced by the size of donations. They say that the practice allows a president to make nominations that might capitalise on a person's expertise or special link with a country. One such nomination, which counts as a "political" posting, is that of Karl Eikenberry, the new ambassador to Afghanistan. Eikenberry was a senior military commander in Afghanistan. Critics admit that changing the system will not be easy. Existing legislation is supposed to ensure that all US ambassadors have expert knowledge of the country to which they are assigned and familiarity with its language and culture. But both the White House and Congress, which vets the appointments, seem happy to let the rules slide. "Nominees are probably not getting posts solely on the basis of their donations," said Israel, "but they can often give a bad impression. It certainly poses the question of how committed an administration is to a professional foreign policy."