Kelly Craft has taken a big step toward helping to ensure her political future, lavishing a campaign contribution of $360,600 on the re-election of her boss, President Donald Trump.
The gift is the first that Craft, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, has dished out since joining the diplomatic corps as ambassador to Canada in mid-2017.
Her Dec. 30, 2019 gift was matched by an identical donation from her husband, the coal billionaire Joseph Craft III. The two gifts, totaling $721,200, to the Trump Victory Fund political action committee, were disclosed in its 2019 year-end report to the Federal Election Commission, filed at the end of January.
The Crafts have showered Trump and a slew of other mostly Republican candidates with millions of dollars over the years before she became a diplomat and worked as a business consultant in her home state of Kentucky. Kelly Craft is Joseph Craft’s second wife, and he is her third husband; they married in 2016. After Trump took office in January 2017, the pair aggressively pushed to ease or eliminate federal regulations on the coal business despite mining’s devastating impact on human health and the environment around the world.
The Trump Victory PAC describes itself as “an independent Political Action Committee dedicated to supporting President Donald J. Trump in his reelection campaign.” It can call itself “independent” by operating separately from the candidate himself.
According to Federal Election Commission filings, the committee received a total of $96,910,000 in contributions in 2019, transferring most of that sum to unnamed “affiliated committees” after taking its administrative expenses off the top.
The Crafts’ twin contributions were among the first either of them had made since Kelly Craft became ambassador to the UN on Sept. 10, 2019.
She refrained from making federal political donations during the 2017-2018 election cycle. In 2016, she gave $265,000 to the Trump Victory Fund, $50,000 to the Republican National Committee and $10,800 to the “Marco Rubio for Senate” campaign. She had backed the presidential campaign of Rubio, a Florida Republican, before switching to Trump as her preferred candidate for the White House.
Joseph Craft donated a total of $230,800 to federal candidates during the 2017-2018 election cycle before pausing his political giving. Toward the end of 2019, he resumed his donations, giving $5,000 to the Alliance Coal LLC PAC — a political action committee affiliated with his coal company — and $500 to the political action committee of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
It is perfectly legal for federal employees, including presidential appointees like Ambassador Craft, to contribute to federal political campaigns, as long as the contributions fall within the limits set for individual recipients. Nor are there restrictions on political gifts from the spouses of federal employees. But big campaign gifts more typically take place before donors become diplomats; new presidents traditionally reward a few of their top donors with ambassadorial appointments in safe spots like France and Britain.
What is unusual about Ambassador Craft’s case is the appointment she ended up winning. The top US diplomatic job at the UN typically goes to highly experienced individuals.
As the Senate prepared to vote on Ambassador Craft’s nomination on July 31, 2019, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, attacked her as “unfit to serve” at the UN due to her lack of diplomatic experience as well as her frequent absences from Ottawa while she was ambassador to Canada.
“It would seem that her most relevant credential is that she, along with her husband, contributed more than a million dollars to the president’s campaign,” Menendez said on the Senate floor, announcing he would vote against her nomination.
The senator said that Ambassador Craft had been absent from her post in Ottawa for more than half her days on the job, during the 21 months she was ambassador to Canada. She had spent 210 of those days in her homes in Kentucky and Oklahoma (where her husband’s company is based), Menendez said.
After nearly six months on the job in New York, she often arrives late to meetings of the Security Council, her chief responsibility, but she speaks with reporters outside the Council occasionally. She and her husband paid for a lavish party at the end of December to celebrate the US role as rotating president of the Council that month. Only certain media that cover the UN were invited to the event, held at the New York Public Library, along with diplomats and others.
After the Senate confirmed her for the UN post by a vote of 56 to 34, she disappeared from public view from Aug. 1 until Aug. 22, when she showed up not in Washington or New York but in Ottawa, where the Canadian foreign minister at the time, Chrystia Freeland, let the cat out of the bag, disclosing that it was Craft’s last day on the job in Canada.
Then she disappeared again until Sept. 10, when Vice President Mike Pence formally swore her in for the UN job.
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Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.