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How much does it cost to become a US ambassador?

Published time: February 04, 2013 21:55
Edited time: February 05, 2013 01:55
At a reception at the Spaso House residence of the US Ambassador in Moscow. (RIA Novosti / Makhail Fomichev)

At a reception at the Spaso House residence of the US Ambassador in Moscow. (RIA Novosti / Makhail Fomichev)

Want to be a US ambassador? Easy – if you have the cash. Like previous US presidents, Obama has awarded many of his top donors who made campaign donations of more than $500,000 with ambassador positions in the most beautiful countries.

Researchers Johannes W. Fedderke and Dennis C. Jett, both professors at Pennsylvania State University, have found that about 30 percent of diplomatic posts were appointed by the president and that political ambassadors who made campaign donations of $550,000 or bundled contributions of $750,000 had a 90 percent chance of being posted to a safe and robust country in Western Europe.

Career ambassadors, on the other hand, were more likely to be sent to work in dangerous or impoverished countries while their wealthy counterparts enjoy the perks that are awarded to them by the president. Those who rose through the ranks through a lifetime of service were more likely to be posted in Central Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.

Officially there are no requirements for would-be ambassadors and there is no official “cost” that will land someone the job, but the researchers combined data on what current ambassadors contributed along with the data on the desirability of their host countries to determine the influence of campaign donations.

“What we can observe is data on contributions and postings,” Dr. Fedderke told the New York Times. “And on the basis of that, we can infer an implicit valuation on postings in monetary terms – even if they haven’t contributed that much.”

Based on the researchers’ calculations using a country’s wealth as the desirability factor, Luxembourg was at the top of the chart with a posting valued at $3.1 million in personal contributions. A Portugal posting was valued at $602,686. By bundling their contributions with others, ambassadors are able to score the same locations without personally donating as much. Bundlers can become appointed to Portugal for about $341,160, while Luxembourg is available for $1.8 million.

But when the desirability factor is calculated based on tourist trade, France and Monaco top the list, with personal contributions at $6.2 million and bundled contributions at $4.4 million.

The researchers clarified that in some cases, ambassadors were appointed to desirable locations due to other attributes like a personal connection to the president. But overall, they were able to “buy” their way into political power.

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