Why Giving Donors Ambassadorships Is a Bad Idea

State Department inspector general's report says employees were so stressed by the bullying they volunteered to work in Afghanistan

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Just because you're really good at raising campaign cash doesn't mean you're good at anything else. Alas, politicians have to say thank you somehow. Cynthia Stroum bundled $500,000 for Barack Obama in 2008, and was rewarded with a plum gig that most rich supporters are able to coast through with ease: ambassador to Luxembourg. But Stroum was not your typical rich supporter, a State Department inspector general's report finds. She was a bullying, bathroom-obsessed bad boss. Her resignation was effective Monday.

What happened? Talking Points Memo's Ryan J. Reilly has the details: the report found Stroum to be "aggressive, bullying, hostile, and intimidating," and concluded that her "confrontational management style, chronic gaps in senior and other staffing caused by curtailments, and the absence of a sense of direction" put parts of the embassy in "a state of dysfunction." Stroum was obsessed with finding the perfect temporary residence while the embassy was being repaired--one employee was forced to spend six weeks on the real estate hunt, during which time he visited 200 residences. Senior staffers were so stressed they volunteered to work in war zones.

Office drone bloggers can't contain their glee at a bad boss getting taken down.

  • Understanding Rich People  "When rich people contribute lots of money to whichever candidate eventually becomes president, they are often rewarded with appointments as American ambassadors to countries around the world," New York's Dan Amira notes. "Not the important countries, mind you, where they would actually need to deal with complicated and perhaps dangerous issues. We're talking tropical paradises in the Caribbean or peaceful, wealthy Western European and Scandinavian countries. One of the cushiest of all, reportedly, is Luxembourg... Oh well. Back to a still awesome life as a millionaire in Seattle then."
  • Everything's Going to Hell, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg jokes. "Great, just great. Revolution in Egypt, war in Afghanistan, and now this? What if Luxembourg slips into Iran's orbit? What if sanctions fail to convince Luxembourg to end its nuclear program? Just think about the domino effect here: What will be the impact of this crisis on our relations with Andorra? And Monaco? I fear we're reaching a tipping point in the battle for the soul of tiny and irrelevant European countries."
  • Qualifications, Politico's Ben Smith writes. "Turns out that having raised tons of money for Barack Obama doesn't guarantee that you'll be a good ambassador..."
  • Rewarding Donors, The Blaze's Jonathon M. Seidl says. "Stroum's case illustrates the pitfalls that presidents can face when they appoint non-career diplomats to ambassadorships as a reward for their political support. ... Aside from her business experience as an investor, entertainment producer and philanthropist active in numerous charities, Stroum’s major qualification for the post appeared to be her generous contributions to Democratic politicians and causes, particularly Obama’s campaign."
  • Warning Signs  "You know there are big problems when your employees request transfers to war zones--from Luxembourg," NBC News' Domenico Montanaro says. "Luckily for the White House, it’s Luxembourg. But as Barbara Bodine, a lecturer at Princeton’s Wilson School and former ambassador to Yemen, said [in a 2009 story on appointments]: 'The complexity of problems is not a job for amateurs — even a talented amateur.'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.