An HBO executive is among a group of new appointees to key Obama administration posts.
James Costos, HBO’s vp global licensing and retail, consumer marketing, and a key fundraiser for the president, has been named ambassador to Spain, the Obama administration announced Friday.
In addition to Costos, Obama nominated two other Hollywood political insiders, with more nominations from the entertainment industry expected to follow.
If confirmed by the Senate, John Emerson, the longtime Southern California DNC chief and financial executive, will be ambassador to Germany; Obama campaign finance chief and former studio exec Rufus Gifford will be America’s chief diplomat in Denmark.
“It gives me great confidence that such dedicated and capable individuals have agreed to join this administration to serve the American people,” President Obama said in a release. “I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”
The Hollywood Reporter previously reported that these three high-prestige appointments were pending, along with those of producer Colleen Bell as the potential ambassador to Belgium or Hungary, and political consultant Noah Mamet as a candidate to represent the U.S. in Argentina. Nearly $20 million was raised for President Obama’s re-election in the Los Angeles area, where Hollywood fundraisers played a significant role.
The choice of Costos puts half of a high-profile gay couple in a key post. His partner, White House decorator Michael Smith, previously was said to be interested in a diplomatic post, though Smith’s spokesman adamantly denied that chatter. The couple co-hosted key Obama fundraisers in L.A. and New York.
HBO CEO Richard Plepler said of Costos: “James has been a wonderful part of the HBO family for the last seven years. He has been innovative and dynamic, helping to enhance the HBO brand through his many successful efforts.”
News of Costos’ potential appointment has already drawn headlines in Spain, both for his sexuality and his expected attempt to crack down on digital piracy.
“HBO series, like Sex in the City, The Newsroom or Veep, are among the victims of online piracy, one of the main worries of the American concerns about Spain,” Spanish daily El Mundo wrote last weekend in a two-page spread speculating on Costos’ and Smith’s potential imminent arrival in the country. “If his appointment is confirmed, Costos will be particularly sensitive to this subject and ready to pressure the Spanish government to control the illegal downloads of video and books.”
A 2012 GFK study for the Anti-Piracy Federation estimated that some 84 percent of digital content consumed in Spain comes from illegal downloads.
Chad Griffin, who co-hosted fundraisers with Costos and Smith in Los Angeles before becoming president of the Human Rights Campaign in D.C., applauded Obama’s nominations of Costos and Gifford.
“Ambassador-designate James Costos is a true citizen of the world,” Griffin said. “He has incredible global business experience and is a respected and innovative leader. He has solid business and political relationships at the highest levels and a proven commitment to community, philanthropy, human rights, and democracy that make him an outstanding choice to be the nation’s next ambassador to Spain.”
Griffin said Gifford, whose ex-husband Jeremy Bernard serves as the White House social secretary, has “demonstrated leadership and unwavering commitment to democracy and human rights.”
Another of Obama’s Friday nominations seemed tailored to address changes now under way in the Vatican, where Pope Francis I is putting a new emphasis on issues involving poverty and Third World development. Ken Hackett, a Notre Dame professor with long and deep experience in international Catholic charities, was tabbed by the president as America’s new ambassador to the Holy See. Also nominated were career diplomats Liliana Ayalde as representative to Brazil and Patricia Marie Haslach, as ambassador to Ethiopia.