Last week, I was talking to a top Joe Biden fundraiser who made a claim that, at first blush, I assumed was pure hyperbole. Admittedly, my question seemed crass: I asked this person point blank about the fundraising haul required to ascertain a plum ambassadorship—or to be “taken care of” in political parlance. I assumed the answer to be in the high-six figures, maybe more. But this person’s response was stunning. “I think raising money is a deterrent to getting taken care of,” they shot back. “This cycle, being a part of the money side of things is a negative.”
I rolled my eyes. “That’s crazy,” I responded. After all, it’s no news to you that rich people around the country every four or eight years partake in one of America’s most transparent, bipartisan traditions: auctioning diplomatic posts to campaign fundraisers, or bundlers. In 2016, raising $1 million might have bought an ambassadorship anywhere in the world, part of an age-old ritual through which the mega-wealthy trade the lavish perks and reputation cleansing effect of diplomatic status. Joe Kennedy, a Nazi-appeaser and bootlegger, was ambassador to the Court of St. James. Woody Johnson, a scion of minimal repute, had the same job a half century later.
But the bundler’s comment did illuminate a perspective that I do think is fundamentally correct: being a big-money ally of this sitting president doesn’t pack the same punch as it has with past inhabitants of the Oval Office. Biden is signaling that he won’t sell the traditional postings to his big-money pals, or at least won’t do so quickly. Some of those bundlers are, predictably, fuming. “They have a lot of money, and they want to be acknowledged for it,” said a different Biden bundler, who described their fundraising friends as “riled up” over what they see as a slow rollout. This time around, some donors who have raised that $1 million or more are in the dark, I’m told.