On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced that Republican lawyer Randy Evans was his nominee to be America’s next ambassador to Luxembourg, a principality that is famous as a global hub of commerce.
A former Georgia Republican Party chairman, Evans has represented his fair share of political clients—from former Speaker Newt Gingrich to current HHS Secretary Tom Price—and been involved in politics himself, having been a delegate to the Republican convention in 2016. Like those who served in the Luxembourg post before, he has limited (if any) prior diplomatic experience. But he made up for that with wholly different qualification: he has written hefty checks.
Evans donated the legal maximum ($5,400) to Trump’s presidential campaign; $25,000 to a joint fundraising vehicle for Trump and the Republican National Committee last cycle; and another $45,000 to the RNC directly.
It is a common practice for incoming presidents to reward their most generous supporters with plum positions in government. And ambassadorships tend to be the most common outpost for the financially generous.
Indeed, former President Barack Obama’s first ambassador to Luxembourg was a major donor herself. Former ambassador Cynthia Stroum, had no prior professional experience outside the entertainment industry before being confirmed to the post in 2009. Her two-year tenure went poorly. Stroum was the subject of a blistering inspector general report that faulted her for the embassy’s “dysfunctional” culture and routine mismanagement of resources.
Trump had pledged to be different. During the course of the 2016 campaign, he said that his personal wealth made him free of having to rely on or reward big-time donors. Since winning, however, he has stuck with a familiar formula—turning to those who gave to his campaign, one of his joint fundraising committees, his inauguration, his transition team, or the RNC during the 2016 campaign.
All told, 13 of Trump’s nominees to US ambassadorships have donated at least five-figure-sums to his political groups that supported his election, transition, and inauguration, a review of public records show.
Larry Noble, the senior director and general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, noted that it was a “a standard practice,” for Trump to reward donors like Evans with these types of gigs. “Often they get some of the nicer places to go that aren't necessarily the most critical in terms of our foreign policy,” Noble said.
What makes Trump unique, Noble added, is that unlike the past two presidents, he never listed the who his biggest donors were. Indeed, throughout the campaign, Trump declined to list his most prolific fundraisers, known as bundlers because they not only give money but help raise it from other donors. That makes it difficult to know the full extent to which Trump has rewarded those who helped finance his presidential campaign.
Some names are known, however, simply because of the sheer amount they personally gave to Trump and the GOP’s 2016 political efforts. Atop the list is investor Doug Manchester. He poured nearly $2 million into Trump entities and the RNC’s coffers last cycle—personally and by way of his “Papa Doug Trust,” a financial vehicle he’s used to make prior political contributions. In May, Manchester was nominated as U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas—an assignment that probably seemed pretty cushy until Hurricane Irma pummelled the island.
New York Jets owner Robert “Woody” Johnson kicked in $1 million to the inauguration, nearly $450,000 to a Trump joint fundraising committee, more than $170,000 to the RNC, the maximum contribution to the Trump campaign, and $5,000 to the transition. In August, he was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain.
“The NFL is now playing some games in London,” Noble noted.
Real estate mogul Robert Kohorst was nominated this month to be the next U.S. ambassador to Croatia. His Kohorst Family Trust gave a quarter million dollars to Trump’s inaugural committee, and he personally donated nearly $300,000 to a Trump joint fundraising committees and more than $430,000 to the RNC last cycle.
Financier Duke Buchan is also awaiting confirmation after being nominated to be U.S. ambassador to Spain in August. Like Evans, he maxed out to the Trump campaign, and like Kohorst, he chipped in a quarter million for the inauguration.
Trump has also nominated ambassadors who weren’t financial backers, but were high profile supporters or media surrogates during the campaign. They include former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, now the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand; Callista Gingrich, wife of the former Speaker of the House and the nominee for U.S. ambassador to the Holy See; Terry Branstad, the former Iowa governor and now ambassador to China; former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, co-chair of Trump’s Michigan campaign last year and the president’s nominee to be ambassador to the Netherlands; and Richard Grenell, an outspoken Trump supporter, former Fox News contributor, and now the nominee for U.S. ambassador to Germany.
Many of the Trump political supporters tapped for ambassadorships have yet to be confirmed, and at least one has backed out. California businesswoman Kelly Roberts recently withdrew her name from consideration for ambassador to Slovenia, Politico reported on Thursday. Roberts, a donor to the Trump campaign and transition team reportedly took her name out of contention due to requirements that she divest some of her assets.
Roberts had been hand-picked for the post by First Lady, and native Slovenian, Melania Trump.
With additional reporting by Sam Stein