Almost four years ago, President Barack Obama turned heads when he appointed an NFL owner as an ambassador. And now, names like Anna Wintour are in the gossip mill, with no State Department experience.
Anna Wintour and Alexa Chung. Source: Tabercil (Flickr).
On St. Patrick’s Day in 2009, the president appointed Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney as ambassador to Ireland.
“I am honored and grateful that such a dedicated and accomplished individual has agreed to serve as the representative of the United States to the Irish people,” Obama said in 2009.
Rooney, a Republican, was a key Obama campaign supporter in 2008. He was also unique in that he was involved in peace and education efforts in Ireland and Northern Ireland for decades.
Rooney had also been named as an honorary commander of the British Empire for his efforts in Northern Ireland, before becoming ambassador.
But after President Obama’s recent re-election, some names started surfacing about “bundlers,” people who gather big-ticket political donations, and their possible appointments as ambassadors.
Several news sources said fashion editor Anna Wintour was under consideration to become the new ambassador in London or Paris.
Prior diplomats in those two positions include Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Monroe, Robert Todd Lincoln, Averell Harriman, Walter Annenberg, Sargent Shriver and Felix Rohatyn.
According to data gathered by The New York Times, Wintour is one of top bundlers for President Obama, bringing in $5.5 million in campaign donations since 2007.
In the Times’ list of bundlers, Wintour ranks fourth among the most-effective fundraisers for Obama since 2011.
She pulled in $2.6 million, just trailing writer Andrew Tobias, retired financial executive Azita Raji, and executive Michael Kempner.
ABC reporter Jake Tapper points out that Obama has rewarded political allies in the past with appointments, not differing so much from the Ronald Reagan era, but in contrast with his predecessor, President George W. Bush.
“Obama has given more than 30 percent of his ambassadorships to political appointees–more than did President George W. Bush,” said Tapper.
Wintour, like Rooney, is an interesting case. She was born in London, but is an American citizen. She also has been awarded the Order of the British Empire.
Wintour has also worked with First Lady Michelle Obama since 2009 and is credited with influencing her fashion sense.
A former British ambassador to the United States says it wouldn’t be uncommon for a non-career diplomat to be sent to the Court of St. James.
“If Anna Wintour is given the London embassy (she raised tons of money for Obama’s campaign), it would not be unusual that she is not a career diplomat. The US State Department would make sure, as it always does, that she would be supported by an experienced deputy and staff,” says Sir Christopher Meyer, in a commentary in the Daily Telegraph.
“It’s always a leap into the unknown with political appointees. Some sink, some swim. In London, we have seen over the years American ambassadors who have ranged from the hopeless to the highly effective.”
But a quick look at the Obama bundler list shows a few other famous names.
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The top name on the list is Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. The Hollywood executive has raised more than $6 million for the Obama campaign working with political consultant Andy Spahn.
Also on the list is Colleen Bell, part of the family that produces “The Young and the Restless” on television; Ken Solomon, CEO of The Tennis Channel; and Tobias, a financial writer who has been involved with Democratic National Committee.
Other names at the top of the bundlers list include political operatives such as Jane Stetson (from the Democratic National Committee), Matthew Barzun (from Obama For America), and former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe.
Looking at some other high-profile appointments in the past, ambassadors can come from all walks of life.
Former actress Shirley Temple Black became involved in Republican politics in California and later served in several diplomatic positions.
Writer Clare Booth Luce was ambassador to Italy in the 1950s. She was the wife of Time publisher Henry Luce.
Annenberg was a success story as an ambassador to the United Kingdom for Richard Nixon. The Philadelphia-based philanthropist and businessman was very popular in Great Britain, and he was later known as a close friend and confidant of President Ronald Reagan.