Al Kamen: For mega-donors, if price is right, ambassadorship may be, too

Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated that the National Park Service is exempt from the Department of Agriculture’s new policy on logos. The National Park Service is not an agency of the USDA; it is the U.S. Forest Service that is exempt.

Al Kamen
Columnist April 4, 2013

The tradition of rewarding mega-donors and fundraisers with fine ambassadorships dates back many decades and presidencies.

President Obama’s reported pick of Bruce Heyman to be ambassador to Canada is hardly novel. (And he would replace David Jacobson, a fellow Chicagoan and 2008 campaign fundraiser.)

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Many major contributors, as we’ve reported, were asked after the election if “they might want to serve” in the administration. Somewhere overseas, perhaps?

But sometimes embassies are straight-up bought before an election, a Loop Fan reminded us after seeing an item on Obama’s selection of Caroline Kennedy for Japan that referred to President Richard Nixon’s thoughts on ambassadorial appointments.

There was the delightful case of Ruth Farkas, our reader noted, who was Nixon’s ambassador to Luxembourg. Nixon’s attorney, Herbert Kalmbach, testified under oath in 1974 that a senior Nixon aide asked him in 1971 to call Farkas, whose husband owned a clothing store chain.

“She is interested in giving $250,000 for Costa Rica,” Kalmbach said the aide told him, according to an account in the New Republic by our colleague Walter Pincus. (That was a huge amount in those days.)

Kalmbach said that he met with Farkas and that she had said “words to the following effect: She said, ‘Well, you know, I am interested in Europe, I think, and isn’t $250,000 an awful lot of money for Costa Rica?’ ”

Farkas donated $300,000 to the reelection campaign and ended up in Luxembourg. She may have thought she paid too much for that tiny country, but apparently she did a fine job there.

Sequester sacrifice

The Obama Cabinet’s Sequester Solidarity Stampede is picking up steam. On Wednesday, President Obama, following the lead of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, said he’s contributing $20,000 — 5 percent of his $400,000 yearly salary — to the Treasury in solidarity with federal workers who are being furloughed because of the sequester.

By Thursday afternoon, several more Cabinet members — including Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano — also had pledged to return or donate a chunk of their pay. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and acting Environmental Protection Agency chief Bob Perciasepe jumped on the bandwagon the same day as the president.

Of course, some folks — such as Obama and Kerry — will hardly feel the loss, because they have millions — unlike the more than 1 million federal workers who will be furloughed in coming weeks.

Many senior agency officials also have begun chipping in. Other less-well-heeled officials may feel obliged, leading to what our colleague Lisa Rein dubbed a problem of “sacrifice creep.” (The top folks may have to proclaim a cutoff at the deputy or undersecretary level.)

We’re just waiting to see who’s going to be the last Cabinet member to sign up.

Logos will go

Seems the Agriculture Department is doing some re-branding — or un-branding. The department is consolidating its multitude of agencies and offices under a single, crisp logo.

Gone will be the dozens of logos, crests and banners used by the likes of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or the Foreign Agricultural Service. Say goodbye to Rural Development’s nifty logo featuring a distinctive grain silo and adieu to the water-drop image that graced the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s signage.

The department recently issued a “Visual Standards Guide” to alert employees that all other logos are being phased out and replaced by the USDA’s main logo. That’s the bold “USDA” underlined by a graphic representation of a sloping landscape. The image is known as “rolling hills.” (It has been in use since the mid-1990s.)

USDA communications director Matt Paul says the brand consolidation is meant to unify the wide-ranging agencies.

“Because they are so diverse, it’s important that we increase the USDA’s overall identity and that people understand the value of the sum total of all that we do,” he said.

Another goal is to save money. Paul says USDA will trim costs by consolidating print and graphics orders for everything from letterhead to the lettering used on department-owned vehicles. They’re not replacing inventory (which would be, uh, more expensive), just subbing the standard logo on any new items.

Of course, change always ruffles feathers, and there’s some grumbling among longtime employees who use — and maybe even like — the specialized logos.

And at least one agency is getting a waiver from the new edict. The U.S. Forest Service can keep using that iconic pine-tree logo.

Egg on the face

Okay. We think we’ve straightened out whether President Lyndon Johnson ever attended a White House Easter Egg Roll.

A March 29 column item noted that the Johnson Library folks in Texas said it didn’t appear that LBJ had been to one. But Loop Fan Marilynn Eaton, whose husband covered the White House during the Johnson years as a reporter for UPI, said we were mistaken, sending a 1964 photo of Johnson and some kids, including Eaton’s daughters, at a White House Easter event. So we made a correction in an April 3 item.

But the library begged to differ, writing us Wednesday that it had a copy of Eaton’s photo in its files, along with Johnson’s schedules, and that the photo was not from the Easter Egg Roll but from another event a few weeks later.

So, as we wrote first time around, it still appears that Johnson never attended a White House egg roll, preferring instead to go to his Texas ranch for Easter.

Phew.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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