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Bush Picks Envoys From Southland

June 10, 2005|Peter Wallsten | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush has nominated two wealthy California supporters and Republican fundraisers for two of the government's most coveted overseas postings.

If the Senate gives its approval, Los Angeles venture capitalist Ronald Spogli will become U.S. ambassador to Italy, and Orange County automobile dealership executive Robert H. Tuttle will become ambassador to Britain.

Unlike embassy posts in more politically unsettled locales, such as Baghdad and Bogota, the Rome and London posts have long been considered rewards for loyal supporters of whatever administration is in power, with an emphasis on soirees and schmoozing rather than diplomatic heavy lifting.

The Center for Responsive Politics charts the practice of using First World ambassadorships as rewards to the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt, when Joseph Kennedy was named ambassador to Britain. Kennedy was the wealthy patriarch of the family that produced three senators, one of whom became president.

The tradition remained for presidents of both parties. Ambassadors to developing or war-torn countries tend to come from the ranks of the foreign service.

Spogli and Tuttle attained the status of "pioneer" in Bush's reelection campaign last year, meaning they each raised more than $100,000. Each gave thousands more to other GOP candidates and organizations.

Spogli, who earned his undergraduate degree at Stanford University, was a Harvard Business School classmate of Bush's.

The previous ambassador to Italy was Florida shopping center developer Mel Sembler.

Tuttle, co-managing partner of Tuttle-Click Automotive Group and also a Stanford graduate, worked in the Reagan White House as assistant to the president and as personnel director.

The previous ambassador to Britain was William Farish, a wealthy horse breeder and chairman of Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Farish, who resigned last summer, is a longtime Bush family friend and GOP contributor.

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