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Politics pulls out the hard "soft" cash, Houston-style

Godfrey, for his part, has maintained a persistent refusal to return phone calls on his fundraising activities. Not that either he or Schechter often has to discuss his role at party fundraisers.

When the Chronicle noted that Schechter was officially nominated for the ambassadorship to the Bahamas, the daily maintained its respectful tone for Schechter's reputation as a big-time contributor. "Rewarding political donors with choice ambassadorial appointments," intoned the Chronicle without a hint of disapproval, "is a time-honored tradition in Washington."

While it may be a tradition in Washington, it's not been an honored one.
Clinton "has a lot of fat cats getting plum jobs," says Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C. "For years, presidents have had a lot of deep-pocket folks that helped sponsor their careers and candidacies," he says. "And when it's over, out of the sheer boredom of their lives, they want to do something in Washington."

The primary dumping ground for contributors, says Lewis, is the foreign service.

"It's terribly demoralizing for career diplomats in the foreign service. Most presidents don't care about that nearly as much as rewarding their cronies.

"We've come to accept it as the norm. But in this age of terrorism and economic crisis in various parts of the globe, I'm one of those people that occasionally think an ambassador can do important work," Lewis says. "And the idea of some novice coming in, who can't speak the language or barely understands the culture, is disturbing. So I have a problem with it."

Whatever their motives for their Democratic gift-giving, their financial rewards will be slim pickings compared to their current incomes. Both attorneys rank high in their professions and have already given away far more than they would be paid per year as ambassadors. The Bahamas post pays $118,400 a year; Brazil slightly more at $125,900 -- a fraction of what even a senior partner would pull down at one of these Houston law firms.

But that's all business as usual in the world of political fundraising. Says Lewis with a bitter laugh: "What is slightly remarkable is that this president said he would be different and, in fact, he's not.

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