The latest beneficiaries of what the Center for Responsive Politics’s Sheila Krumholtz once described to me as a “donor rewards program” are two Obama bundlers with Chicago ties.
Colleen Bell, 46, is an Evanstonian by birth who married into Chicago’s soap opera dynasty. She is the daughter in law of Lee Phillip Bell and William J. Bell and married to Bradley Bell. Colleen and Bradley and their four children live in Los Angeles, and Colleen is a writer and producer for The Bold and the Beautiful. She is up for—and next to certain to get—the ambassadorship to Hungary. (Bradley is the soap’s co-creator, executive producer and head writer; his parents co-created The Young and the Restless, and, with their son, The Bold and the Beautiful.)
Colleen is productively and admirably active in arts and environmental causes, but has no discernible foreign policy creds. Her qualification for ambassador to Hungary? She bundled more than $500,000 for Obama. In addition, the Bells opened their Holmby Hills home for a Will Farrell-hosted Obama/DNC fundraiser in February 2012. (Obama attended the event, which featured a $35,800 per person dinner.)
The other lucky ambassador in waiting is Mark Gilbert, 57, whose ties to Chicago are through baseball. The outfielder turned Barclays Wealth banker was born in Atlanta and raised in Fort Lauderdale, played in the minors for the Cubs, and in the majors—playing only seven games in July 1985—for the Obama’s team, the White Sox (under manager Tony LaRussa).
When (again, not if) confirmed by the Senate, he’ll become ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. His qualification? He bundled, according to the Washington Post, $436,000 to “democratic causes.”
USA Today has reported that the State Department couldn’t find “any other record of a former major league player having served as an ambassador.” Mark Gilbert was a baseball star at Florida State, graduating with a degree in finance and, in 1978, was a Chicago Cubs 14th-round draft pick. Once moving up to the majors, he played only seven games with the White Sox, taking all three outfield positions, “getting on base at least once in every game,” according to Yahoo Sports writer David Brown.
The Big Book of Jewish Baseball describes Gilbert as “a third-generation Jewish baseball player.” His father had been a professional player (“an infielder with the White Sox organization, [he] went on to reach the triple-A level in the minors”); his grandfather played semi-pro, having turned down a contract offered by Connie Mack to pitch for the Philadelphia Athletics because his father thought baseball players were “bums.” Mark Gilbert’s grandfather and father co-owned a furniture store in Pompano Beach.
According to the The Big Book, Mark Gilbert injured his knee in two of those seven games for the White Sox; the first time diving for a line drive. He continued to play. “Two nights later, making another dive for a line drive, his knee snapped again. This time he couldn’t get up. Mark’s career was over.”
There are currently 32 ambassadors nominations pending before the Senate; 18 of them are career professionals, meaning, typically, that they have trained for the job and come up through the Foreign Service. The others, a group that I have written about repeatedly—several Chicagoans among them, most prominently Lou Susman, U.S. ambassador to England during Obama’s first term—snag the coveted jobs because they are gifted money multipliers.
The American Foreign Service Association’s latest ambassador list puts Obama in the mainstream of his presidential peers in terms of percentages of political (36.5 percent) vs. career (63.5 percent) ambassadorships. The U.S. ambassadors to countries such as Libya—our professional ambassador, Chris Stevens, died in the consulate outpost in Benghazi—or Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, for example, are generally professionals. Bundlers, presumably, would not be interested in being posted to such dangerous places even if they had the skills to do the job. Generally bundlers go to such tourist-friendly locations as Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, and Canada.
New Zealand and Hungary sound like fun. They are solidly in the latter category.