No Surprise

How Much for That Ambassadorship?

President-elect Barack Obama isn't going to bring change to one of Washington's oldest traditions: He says there will "probably" be some major donors among the 170 ambassadors he'll appoint. “It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that there are not going to be some excellent public servants but who haven’t come through the ranks of the civil service," he said. Obama has been urged to abolish the pay-for-play process, wherein major donors are rewarded with ambassadorships to placid European nations or sunny Caribbean vacation spots. Ambassadors have typically come from one of three groups: Foreign Service officers, distinguished career politicians, and major donors and fundraisers. Past presidents from both parties have found a plum ambassadorship a mighty fine way to return a favor. George W. Bush appointed Sam Fox, who donated $1 million to the GOP (and more to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth), as ambassador to Belgium. Bill Clinton made multimillion-dollar donor and businessman Larry Lawrence the ambassador to Switzerland. Donors need not worry about ending up under a mosquito net, though. “We have the hardship posts in Africa safely in our pocket,” retired American Foreign Service President Tex Harris said. “No one wants to go where you have to take a cholera pill."