Obama’s nomination of “campaign bundler’ as ambassador to Canada criticized in U.S.

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

President Barack Obama's decision to nominate former Goldman Sachs executive Bruce Heyman as the U.S. ambassador to Canada is being slammed by an American nonprofit investigative news organization.

The Washington-based Center for Public Integrity says that the appointment is just the "latest in a parade of big-dollar [Obama] campaign backers slated to represent U.S. interests abroad."

Chicago-based Bruce Heyman raised more than $750,000 for Obama’s committees since 2007, along with his wife, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of records.

Heyman’s nomination is a sort of milestone for the White House: During his second term, Obama has now tapped 20 campaign bundlers for ambassadorships. Together, these moneymen and women raised at least $13.8 million — and likely much more — for Obama’s political committees since 2007, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s research.

Politicians gifting their friends with cushy jobs is nothing new. The cynical among us would say that it's the norm.

But according to the Center's report, things were supposed to be different with President Obama.

When he was running for president in 2008, Obama pledged to be a different kind of politician and stressed his “commitment to changing the way business is done in Washington.” The custom of elevating top donors and fundraisers to plum diplomatic posts — a practice embraced by Democratic and Republican presidents for generations — wasn’t touched, however.

This has prompted criticism from many career diplomats and good-government groups, even as Obama’s overall rate of appointing non-career ambassadors has remained in-line with those of previous administrations — about one in three, according to the American Foreign Service Association, the labor union and trade association for career diplomats. So far in Obama's second term, it's about one in two.

In an email exchange with Yahoo! Canada News, a senior political writer with CPI said that Obama is actually moving in the opposite direction of 'changing the way business' is done in the U.S. capital.

"The bottom line is that in his second term, Obama has been nominating political patrons to ambassadorial positions at a significantly greater clip than what’s average for recent presidents," Dave Levinthal said.

"During his full tenure in office, he’s about at par with presidents such as George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and others of the past generation."

[ Related: White House says Obama to nominate investment banker Heyman as Cdn ambassador ]

Heyman's appointment was made official, on Thursday, by the Obama administration.

"I am proud that such experienced and committed individuals have agreed to serve the American people in these important roles. I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead," Obama said in a statement, according to the CBC News.

Heymen will take over for David Jacobson, who was also an avid Obama fundraiser.

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On this side of the border Heyman's nomination has been met with a little more fanfare.

According to the Globe and Mail, the prime minister's office welcomed the announcement.

“We look forward to working with Ambassador-Designate Heyman to continue to build on the strong relationship with the Obama Administration and advance shared priorities, including the creation of jobs and increased trade on both sides of the border,” Stephen Lecce said in an e-mail to the Globe.

And, Colin Robertson, a former senior Canadian diplomat, said that Heyman's past connection with Obama is actually an asset.

"A lot of the criticism we're hearing about Heyman is the kind of stuff I heard before Jacobson came. He was not a career diplomat, his sole credential was raising money, he didn't have any ties to Canada," he told CBC News, recently.

"But Jacobson was a very good ambassador. He was a point person, a problem-solver, he worked hard, he had a fantastic relationship with Gary Doer, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., and most importantly, he had the president's ear. Having someone in Ottawa who can pick up the phone and get through to the White House is really important."

Heyman's nomination still has to be approved by the U.S. Senate, which could take several weeks or months.

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