Obama fundraiser tipped to be next US ambassador

Missouri businessman emerges as leading candidate

Tom Carnahan has emerged as the leading candidate to become the next US ambassador to Ireland.

Tom Carnahan has emerged as the leading candidate to become the next US ambassador to Ireland.

Sat, Nov 23, 2013, 16:26

Missouri businessman and lawyer Tom Carnahan, a major fundraiser for President Barack Obama, has emerged as the leading candidate to become the next US ambassador to Ireland.

Mr Carnahan, who founded Wind Capital Group, a developer of wind farms in the US midwest backed by investments of more than $1 billion, is a favourite to take up the top US diplomatic role in Dublin, a post that has been vacant since Dan Rooney resigned in December 2012.

The entrepreneur hails from a politically connected Irish-American Democratic family in Missouri. His father Mel was governor of the state in the 1990s and was posthumously elected to the US Senate after being killed in an air crash in 2000. Tom’s mother Jean filled the seat in his place. Mr Carnahan’s brother Russ is a former congressman.

Diplomacy also runs in the family. Mr Carnahan’s grandfather, who served seven terms in Congress, was appointed US ambassador to Sierra Leone by President John F Kennedy.

Known as a key “bundler” for Mr Obama, the St Louis-based entrepreneur is a significant fundraiser, campaign contributor and supporter for the US president.

He raised almost $1 million for Mr Obama in the two years leading up to the 2012 presidential campaign and hosted the president at a $25,000-a-head fundraising dinner at his home in 2011.

Sharp contrast

The appointment of Mr Carnahan, who is a youthful 44, would be in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Mr Rooney, who was 76 when he was named ambassador in 2009.

Mr Carnahan must first complete an onerous vetting process managed by the White House and would have to be confirmed by the US Senate should President Obama proceed to name him ambassador.

The State Department this week directed queries from The Irish Times about the vacant role of US ambassador to Ireland to the White House, where Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for President Obama’s national security council, declined to comment on the appointment process.

“We don’t have any personnel announcements to make at this point,” she said.

Mr Carnahan did not return a call from this newspaper this week.

His business links with Ireland equip him with a strong understanding of the economic situation in Ireland - obviously an area of significant importance in current relations between Ireland and the US.

Five years ago he sold a stake in Wind Capital to NTR, the Irish investment group in renewable energy and sustainable waste, before the Irish company acquired the business outright in 2012.

He is the incoming chairman of the American Wind Energy Association and has testified before Congress as an expert on energy, public policy an development.

Mr Carnahan, who is married with four daughters, had given up his law practice in 2005 to start the business. As an attorney, he represented the city of St Louis as an assistant city counsellor.

An international relations graduate, he studied at William Jewell College in Missouri and Cambridge University and has worked as a volunteer on elections in Hungary in 1990 and Cambodia in 1993.

He also served as an official observer for the United Nations on a mission to monitor the democratic elections in El Salvador in 1994.

Several Irish-Americans have criticised the White House for the lengthy delay in the appointment of a new ambassador.

Lawyer and lobbyist Brian O’Dwyer has described it as a “slap in the face” to the millions of Irish-Americans who have supported Mr Obama.