Page 13 - Foreign Service Journal - March 2013

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MARCH 2013
“Pay to Play”
t’s no secret that if you want to land
a plum diplomatic assignment
representing the United States abroad,
it helps to be generous with campaign
contributions, cultivate the right politi-
cal connections or both. Retired Ambas-
sador Dennis Jett recently highlighted
this perennial issue in these pages via
a Speaking Out column (“Psst! Hey,
Buddy, Wanna Buy an Ambassador-
ship?” November 2012).
But it has been
difcult to fnd hard data about such
“transactions”—until now.
In a recent study—
“What Price the
Court of St. James’s? Political Infuences
on Ambassadorial Postings of the United
States of America”—Jett and Johannes
W. Fedderke, both professors of inter-
national relations at Pennsylvania State
University, computed theoretical prices
for diferent diplomatic postings between
January 2009 and January 2011.
Writing in th
e Jan. 31
New York Times,
Nicholas Confessore reports that the
researchers compared available informa-
tion on donors’ direct political contribu-
tions and “bundling”—money raised on
behalf of President Barack Obama by
supporters—with data on the national
income of host countries, their rela-
tive level of safety and the robustness of
their tourist industries. Tis generated
“implied prices” for a selection of highly
sought positions.
Tose whose political connections to
Pres. Obama were measured in dollars,
rather than administration service, had a
better chance of representing the United
States in Western Europe, and a markedly
smaller chance of serving in, say, Central
Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. Specifcally,
political ambassadors who had made
campaign donations of $550,000, or
bundled contributions of $750,000, had
a 90-percent chance of being posted to a
European capital.
When isolating a country’s wealth
over other factors, Luxembourg came
in at the top of the chart, with a post-
ing there valued at $3.1 million in direct
contributions, while an appointment to
Portugal was predicted to have a value
of $602,686 in personal contributions.
Interestingly, the model suggests that
bundlers can get the same posts for less:
Portugal was valued at about $341,160 in
bundled contributions, Luxembourg at
$1.8 million.
Brad Plumer’s report on the study
in the Feb. 7 Wonkblog section of the
Washington Post
covers some of the same
ground. But he highlights the authors’
fnding that plenty of political appointees
have “overpaid” for their postings, while
others have gotten ambassadorships at a
relative bargain—perhaps because they
had relevant skills or were closely con-
nected to the president in other ways.
As an example, he cites
Anna Wintour, who was briefy rumored
to be in the running for London after
raising $40 million for Pres. Obama’s
re-election campaign. Plumer observes
that such a sum would have represented
a steep overpayment, since Fedderke and
Jett calculate that the Court of St. James’s
is “only” worth between $650,000 and
$2.3 million. (Te point is moot now,
since Wintour has reportedly withdrawn
from consideration.)
Plumer also presents some of Fed-
derke and Jett’s data in a helpful bar
graph showing the relative “price” of
appointments to Austria, Belgium, Can-
But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not
just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of
friends; and we must carry those lessons into this time as
well. We will defend our people and uphold our values through
strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try
and resolve our diferences with other nations peacefully—not
because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because
engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.
America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every
corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that
extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a
greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.
We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas
to the Middle East—because our interests and our conscience
compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.
We must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the
marginalized, the victims of prejudice—not out of mere charity,
but because peace in our time requires the constant advance
of those principles that our common creed describes:
tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.
—From President Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural Address, Jan. 21.