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Obama Nominates HBO Exec James Costos as Ambassador to Spain

Administration prepares to unveil a number of selections for highly sought diplomatic posts

President Obama nominated HBO executive James Costos as the next U.S. ambassador to Spain, along with a number of other prominent Los Angeles figures to fill prized diplomatic posts.

John Emerson, president of Capital Group Private Client Services and former chairman of the Los Angeles Music Center, was nominated ambassador to Germany. Rufus Gifford, a former producer and California fundraising consultant who was finance director of Obama’s reelection campaign, was nominated ambassador to Denmark. Their nominations have been anticipated for months.

Costos is the vice president of global licensing and retail, consumer marketing for HBO. He and his partner, designer Michael Smith, raised at least $500,000 for Obama’s reelection campaign in the 2012 cycle. In June 2011, they hosted First Lady Michelle Obama at their home for a fundraiser for her husband’s reelection campaign. In 2009, Smith was selected by the first lady to redecorate the residential quarters of the White House, and he later designed a makeover of the Oval Office.

All face confirmation in the Senate.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called Costos a “true citizen of the world” with “incredible global business experience” and a “commitment to community, philanthropy, human rights and democracy.” Griffin, who last year called for Obama to include LGBT figures for important diplomatic posts, also praised Obama’s nomination of Gifford and Daniel Baer, selected last week to serve as ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Many who raised money for Obama’s campaign have been interested in diplomatic posts, but the president is expected to fill only about 30 slots with non-career diplomats. The practice of selecting such political appointees — often figures who have raised substantial sums during the most recent campaign — has long been the source of criticism from career foreign service officers, even when they are for places that are not hotspots.

Nevertheless, non-career appointees have argued that they bring a fresh perspective to the job, often at a fraction of their private sector salary, and have access to the president and his top advisers that bureaucratic nominees do not.

Costos’ nomination has been buzzed about for weeks in the Spanish press. Before he was tapped to lead HBO’s licensing and marketing division in 2006, he had his own licensing agency and, before that, was a senior executive at Revolution Studios. Although his background is not in diplomacy, a trade issue that is of particular importance to the entertainment industry is rampant online piracy in the country. Spain was not included in a recent report from the U.S. Trade Representatives on the countries with the worst track records for fighting piracy, but copyright groups have been pressing the country to take greater measures.

Still to come is the nominee for one of the most highly prized assignments, that of ambassador to France. The current ambassador, Charles Rivkin, the former CEO of Wild Brain Media and the Jim Henson Co., is expected to step down soon. Marc Lasry, CEO of Avenue Capital Group, was expected to fill the post, but he dropped out of the running in April.

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