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Senate Confirms HBO Exec James Costos as Ambassador to Spain

John Emerson, Rufus Gifford Also Confirmed for Diplomatic Posts

The Senate on Thursday confirmed HBO executive James Costos as the next U.S. Ambassador to Spain along with other prominent figures who played major roles in raising money for President Obama’s reelection.

John Emerson, president of Capital Group Private Client Services and former chairman of the Los Angeles Music Center, was confirmed as ambassador to Germany, while Rufus Gifford, a former production executive and California fundraising consultant who was finance director of Obama’s reelection campaign, was confirmed as ambassador to Denmark. Their nominations were approved en bloc by unanimous consent.

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 his confirmation hearing last week, Costos said he would pay “special attention to working with our Spanish partners” in property intellectual rights, an issue of particular concern to U.S. studios because of the rampant piracy in the country. Costos also cited his experience at HBO as an asset, telling the committee, “A diplomatic mission, like a company, is comprised of multiple departments, all of which must be relied upon to move business forward. At HBO, my leadership had to inspire and gain the respect of employees in a large company with over 100 external business relationships in dozens of countries.”

Emerson served in several positions in President Bill Clinton’s administration, including leading administration efforts to win congressional approval of the GATT Uruguay Round Agreement and the extension of China’s MFN trading status. He also was Los Angeles chief deputy city attorney, and was a partner at Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Phillips.

Gifford a key leader in the campaign’s effort to raise $1 billion for Obama’s reelection, after having served as finance director for the Democratic National Committee. He was a creative executive at Davis Entertainment from 1998 to 2004.

The nominations of Costos, Gifford and Emerson are among a series of non-career selections that Obama has made to diplomatic posts. Earlier this week, Obama nominated Noah Mamet, a Los Angeles fundraising and philanthropic consultant who also raised money for the campaign, to serve as ambassador to Argentina.

As in previous cycles, the practice of making political appointments to choice diplomatic posts has come with a degree of criticism from career foreign service officers that it is merely rewarding those who raised the most money in the campaign. But past non-career ambassadors have defended the selections, noting that such appointments can benefit a host country because of the ambassador’s private sector experience or access to the president. Charles Rivkin, the former head of WildBrain Media who Obama tapped as U.S. ambassador to France in 2009, earned high marks in a State Department inspector general’s review of his tenure.

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