Diplomatic Dealing

updated 06/13/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/13/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Five years ago, Sen. Al Gore blasted the Bush Administration for appointing Republican political cronies to ambassadorships around the world. Doling out these diplomatic plums to political heavies and big campaign contributors with no foreign service training was, he said, "an abuse for which there is no justification. "More recently. Secretary of State Warren Christopher promised to select ambassadors whose "qualifications...extend beyond campaign participation."

Unfortunately, a study by the American Foreign Service Association in Washington, an organization representing career diplomatic employees, shows that of the 105 people President Bill Clinton has so far named to ambassadorships, 41—or 39 percent—are purely political payoffs to influential friends. That is a worse record than George Bush's (25 percent) or Ronald Reagan's (30 percent). Here's a look at five of Clinton's most dubious nominees:

How Swede it is: A Clinton law-school pal enjoys his reward

Name: Thomas Siebert, 48

Post: Ambassador to Sweden

Background: A well-connected Washington lawyer, Siebert earned nearly $700,000 last year working for telecommunications companies and his law practice.

Political Connection: Siebert is a former classmate of Bill Clinton's at Georgetown University. He also personally gave $28,935 to the Democratic party in 1992. He was sent to Stockholm after Margaretha af Ugglas, the country's foreign minister, complained that the post had remained unfilled for more than a year.

Most Embarrassing Moment: Asked at his confirmation hearings to report on how Sweden had integrated gays into military ranks, Siebert admitted that he hadn't been aware of their policy.

A surefooted Boston street pol stumbles on the world stage

Name: Raymond Flynn, 54

Post: Ambassador to the Vatican

Background: Former mayor of Boston, 1984-93.

Political Connection: Flynn was a big Clinton backer in 1992.

Most Embarrassing Moments: Last year, Flynn tried to insinuate himself into the peace negotiations in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, provoking the State Department's displeasure. Earlier this year, he briefly considered returning to Massachusetts to run for governor and announced plans to appear in several St. Patrick's Day celebrations in the U.S., but his purely political trip was canceled by the State Department.

Texas-size deep pockets earned this Swanee a trip to the Danube

Name: Swanee Hunt, 44

Post: Ambassador to Austria

Background: The youngest of right-wing Texas oil baron H.L. Hunt's 14 children, she is worth at least $300 million. Swanee, the conservative family's rogue liberal, moved to Denver in 1977 where she drove a Ford Taurns and was involved in local charities.

Political Connection: Hunt donated $250,000 to the Democrats in 1992 and hosted a fund-raiser that netted $1 million.

Most Embarrassing Moment: At the Vienna premiere of Schindler's List she introduced the film's director to the audience as Steven Schindler.

For one California couple, appointments run in the family

Name: M. Larry Lawrence, 67

Post: Ambassador to Switzerland. (His wife, Shelia, 32, has been named Clinton's special envoy to the World Conservation Union near Geneva.)

Background: Born into poverty in Chicago, Lawrence is now a real estate developer in Southern California worth more than $300 million. He owns the deluxe 691-room Hotel del Coronado outside San Diego. Lawrence went to court to fight the IRS's claim that he tried to defraud the government of taxes he owed on $1.8 million given to his children in 1984 by submitting a dishonest tax return.

Political Connection: Since 1952, Lawrence has given the Democratic party $10 million. He also loaned Clinton his eight-bedroom, nine-bathroom, two-kitchen, beachfront mansion in Coronado, Calif., for an Easter vacation this year.

Most Embarrassing Moment: Before arriving in Switzerland, Lawrence paid a $7,179 fine to the Federal Election Commission for exceeding contribution limits.

A former pro football player has one vital qualification: his wife

Name: Sidney Williams, 52

Post: Ambassador to the Bahamas

Background: The former linebacker for, among others, the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns was most recently a sales consultant for Mercedes-Benz in Hollywood. His official State Department biography says Williams "developed strong discipline, strategic thinking and negotiating skills as a professional football player."

Political Connection: Williams was "recommended" for the post by his wife, California congresswoman Maxine Waters, one of Clinton's most important African-American supporters.

Most Embarrassing Moment: Minutes after presenting his credentials to Bahamian governor-general Sir Clifford Darling last March, Williams fainted in the tropical heat.

ROCHELLE JONES in Washington with bureau reports

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