Obama bundlers nominated for diplomatic posts; Boca’s Mark Gilbert for ambassador to New Zealand

By Michael Beckel, Center for Public Integrity 

Mark Gilbert, right, and wife Nancy flank former Pinecrest School head Robert Goldberg

Mark Gilbert, right, and wife Nancy flank former Pinecrest School head Robert Goldberg

President Barack Obama has named two more of his top campaign fundraisers for plumb diplomatic posts, nominating Boca Raton’s Mark Gilbert to be U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Rob Barber to the same position in Iceland.

With the choices, Obama continues his aggressive push to elevate major bundlers and loyalists to top diplomatic jobs.

Gilbert, a Palm Beach-based director at the financial services firm Barclays Wealth, raised at least $1.2 million for Obama since 2007, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of campaign disclosures and data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Meanwhile, Barber, an attorney at Boston-based Looney & Grossman LLP, bundled at least $600,000, including at least $500,000 for Obama’s 2012 re-election efforts.

So far this year, only 46 percent of Obama’s ambassador-nominees have been career diplomats — and fully 30 percent have been big-money campaign fundraisers. The rest have been political allies, such as Caroline Kennedy and Samantha Power, but not campaign fundraisers.

Recent presidents have named political appointees to roughly one-third of ambassadorships, according to the American Foreign Service Association, the labor union and trade association for career diplomats.

White House spokesmen Eric Schultz has said that “being a donor does not get you a job in this administration, nor does it preclude you from getting one.”

“I am proud to nominate such impressive men and women to these important roles, and I am grateful they have agreed to lend their considerable talents to this Administration,” Obama was quoted as saying in the Tuesday night press release announcing the selections.

Both Gilbert and Barber had active roles in Obama’s fundraising machine.

Gilbert was a member of the national finance teams for both of Obama’s presidential campaigns, as well as his 2009 inauguration. Since 2009, he has additionally served as the Democratic National Committee’s deputy national finance chair since 2009.

Barber was also a member of the Obama campaign’s national finance team and he chaired its New England steering committee from 2009 to 2012.

Collectively, Obama’s 22 bundlers-turned-diplomats raised at least $15.6 million for Obama since 2007, according to research by the Center for Public Integrity — and likely much more.

The actual amounts of money raised by Obama’s bundlers — so called because they are credited for raising funds from family, friends and business associates and delivering the money in “bundles” — may be even larger than calculated by the Center for Public Integrity.

Federal law only requires disclosure of bundling by registered lobbyists. The Obama campaign disclosed other bundlers fundraising totals in broad ranges — the largest of which was simply “more than $500,000.”

Obama voluntarily identified the bundlers for his 2009 inauguration, but did not do so in 2013.

Internal campaign documents given to the New York Times show the newest nominees raised even more money than the general disclosures suggest.

Those documents show that Gilbert raised about $3.4 million for Obama since 2007, while Barber raised about $3 million.

On Tuesday night, Obama also nominated Ambassador Charles Rivkin to be the assistant secretary for economic and business affairs at the State Department — a move that opens up another posh overseas position.

Since 2009, Rivkin, a former entertainment company executive and fundraiser for Obama’s 2008 campaign, has been serving as the U.S. ambassador to France. IBM heiress Jane Watson Stetson, another mega-fundraiser for Obama, is rumored to be the favorite to fill that spot.

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