Those generous ambassadors

Al Kamen
Columnist July 8, 2013

Since the White House has been announcing new ambassadorships in dribs and drabs of late, we thought it worth examining how generous are the folks whom President Obama has recently named to serve in embassies around the globe.

All told, the White House named 24 ambassadors in June. That bunch includes seven big bundlers — those who collected and gave more than $500,000 to one or both of Obama’s presidential campaigns.

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

That’s a collective $3.5 million, and probably far more than that.

Of course, many of the less glamorous recent postings (Congo, Malaysia, and the like) went to career Foreign Service members. But the moneymen (and -women) got the nods for some of the sweetest jobs.

Washington lawyer Keith Harper, who brought in scads of money from the Native American community, was named to serve as the U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council (oh, hello, Geneva!). HBO exec Jim Costos, who along with his partner, celebrity designer Michael Smith, gave copiously, is heading to Spain. John Emerson, Obama’s pick for Germany, was the 2012 co-chairman of the DNC’s Southern California finance committee.

Denise Bauer, former finance chair for Women for Obama, was nominated for a Belgium posting. Chicago consultant Wally Brewster brought in big bucks — and a nomination to the Dominican Republic.

Miami lawyer Kirk Wagar, who was Obama’s Florida finance chairman for both presidential campaigns, is heading to Singapore, while philanthropist and mega-donor Alexa Wesner is Austria-bound.

And while he doesn’t number among the seven bundlers, Rufus Gifford — tapped for Denmark — was Obama’s fundraising director in 2012, and therefore credited with raking in his north-of-
$700-million war chest.

Those deep-pocketed folks who truly want to serve their country (by taking on diplomatic duties, of course) but haven’t yet gotten the official word shouldn’t despair. Several more donors are thought to still be in line for lovely embassies, including Azita Raji, who’s looking like a likely candidate for Switzerland, and heiress/philanthropist Jane Stetson , a contender for France.

The Obama White House hardly pioneered the concept of giving ambassadorships to top donors — it’s long been standard practice. Seems generosity never goes out of style.

A secretary who delivers

Talk about a high-class messenger service. Secretary of State John Kerry moonlighted as a courier during the 13-day round-the-world diplomatic mission he just returned from.

We hear he picked up the unlikely side gig when Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), one of his favorite former colleagues, asked for help in presenting a gift to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Kerry offered to deliver it himself, though he probably didn’t imagine the size of the job he was taking on.

The present turned out to be a life-size oil painting of Mahatma Gandhi by Georgia artist Ross Rossin , from Atlanta businessman R.K. Sehgal, and it wasn’t something Kerry could just slip into his bag: the 6-by-6-foot canvas was so large it had to be rolled up and stashed in the SecState’s personal cabin on the plane (a far classier ride than your typical deliveryman’s).

Kerry accomplished the handoff to the prime minister during a stop in New Delhi, the second destination in his nearly two-week swing through Asia and the Middle East.

Rookies of the year

Not that it’s a contest, but there’s always been a little friendly rivalry among the freshman senators to see who first earns his or her “Golden Gavel” award.

That’s the prize given to a majority-party frosh who puts in at least 100 hours in a given year serving as the chamber’s presiding officer. Learning the parliamentary ropes can be tricky, and the gavel — it’s actually made of brass, not gold — is an enticement to get junior members into the chair, where they oversee the Senate floor, with all its attendant quirks and rules, calling votes and recognizing speakers. Sometimes, they even have to issue the occasional “The Senate will be in order!” to quiet down noisy colleagues.

Bonus: You get addressed as “Mr. President” or “Madam President,” even by Senate leaders, while you’re sitting in the big chair.

In this year’s derby, we hear Sen. Tammy Baldwin is leading the pack. The Wisconsin Democrat has logged 64 hours and 30 minutes so far.

But the reigning C-SPAN star might not want to get too comfortable — she’s just over an hour ahead of the rest of the pack, and those gavels sure are shiny.

Cowan’s curtain call

The bow tie is back!

Just a week ago, Washington said its fond farewell to Mo Cowan, the temporary senator appointed to fill the Massachusetts seat left vacant when Kerry was plucked from the Senate ranks to be secretary of state.

There were goodbye hugs and handshakes, photos and a touching final address on the Senate floor. Democratic Rep. Ed Markey had won the special election to permanently replace Kerry, and Cowan’s five-month stint as a seat warmer looked to be over.

But not so fast — with Senate votes beginning on Monday evening, and Markey not slated to be sworn in until Wednesday at the earliest (Massachusetts law calls for a lengthy post-election certification process), Cowan will have to put in a two-day encore performance.

Call it mo’ Mo. A Mo-dux.

With Emily Heil

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

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Politics