Hillary Clinton has the email server scandal hanging over her head. Related to this, she also has the scandal concerning whether she shaped policies as Secretary of States to favor major donors to the Clinton Foundation, donors like Saudi Arabia, the country that beheads dissidents like other people floss their teeth.
Either of these could end her campaign and put her in legal hot water, but no one really knows how they will pan out. At any rate, they feed the widely held view that Hillary Clinton lacks integrity and principle, Not good for her.
Bernie Sanders has wisely stayed away from campaigning on these issues. Leave that sort of sewer campaigning and reckless speculation to the Republicans.
Instead Bernie has wisely discussed Hillary’s corruption when it pertains directly to the core policy issues of the 2016 election. He has emphasized her three private talks to Goldman Sachs that put $675,000 into her personal bank account during the period she was informally planning to run for president in 2013-14. Since both candidates are emphasizing to voters their commitment to taming wall Street, Sanders has demanded that Hillary show the transcripts to these private talks with the public. That way we can see what, exactly, she is telling the pooh-bahs at Goldman Sachs when no one else is listening.
Hillary refuses to release the transcripts, which are in her possession, and has concocted a variety of absurd and idiotic defenses that rank far below “the dog ate my homework” in the lexicon of lame excuses. It is obvious that she thinks the release of these transcripts would do grave damage to her campaign, and perhaps end it. Even the generally pro-Clinton New York Times has editorialized that Hillary should release these Goldman Sachs transcripts.
But here is the interesting thing: Those three Goldman Sachs talks that put $675,000 into her personal bank account were just the tip of the iceberg. Bernie has much more material to work with, the extent of Hillary’s corporate speaking is considerably greater, and considerably sleazier.
Hillary did at least 91 talks, each for a minimum fee of $100,000, to corporations, trade associations and a handful of nonprofit groups from January 2013 to April 2015. The total amount of money that Hillary raised doing these 91 private talks was $21.7 million, averaging around $225,000 a pop. This money did not go to her presidential campaign fund. It did not go to one of her Wall Street SuperPACS. No, it went directly into her personal bank account. These talks made her a spectacularly wealthy woman.
In short, Hillary revived the lost art of getting a direct personal payoff from the very corporate interests that have a clear stake in the policies and regulations she would pursue once she became president.
Thanks to my nephew Jed McChesney—the guy who produced this — we now have a sortable chart that lists all 91 corporate talks, their dates and location, and the amount Hillary pocketed to her personal bank account for doing them. Some of these talks did not even require her to travel—she skyped them in.
Go through this list. Look at the companies that hired Hillary for a talk and what they paid her. These are almost all giant companies with massive lobbying armies and campaign donations associated with them. They have a lot of crucial business with the federal government. This sortable list is a moveable feast of corruption. Look up the identities of some of the groups you may not recognize. Some are massive private hedge funds. Note that Hillary got paid $1.6 million to do several talks to Canadian pro-Keystone groups.Gee I wonder what she had to say to them? That might tell us a great deal about her actual stance of environmental issues.
In fact, Bernie should demand that we see ALL these transcripts. They would give us a great deal of insight into her actual plans for the country and her actual relationship to the most powerful businesses in the country, the ones she has promised to deal with as a progressive in the interests of the people. The voters have a right to see these transcripts before they enter the voting booth.
Hillary knows this is a deadly issue for her and she has done everything in her power to pour water on the flames. Fortunately the corporate news media/NPR have shown little interest in doing any actual reporting and journalism—why do that when you can mindlessly gossip about polls and regurgitate Hillary’s talking points for a living? There have been a few good pieces—and I link to them above—but there has been precious little follow-through.
Bernie gets the blame for a lot of this. If he made these 91 talks an issue in every speech, in every debate, in every interview, he could force it into the public and media eye. He has not done so yet, happily joking about the three talks to Goldman Sachs and allowing everyone to assume that is the extent of Hillary’s corruption. If Bernie doesn’t press the issue, don’t expect the corporate media/NPR to wake up from their slumber and do anything about it beyond what little they have already.
And here is the scary part. It is not just the transcripts that are the issue. It is the very fact that she did this corporate shakedown/pay to play tour at all that reeks of corruption. This alone, even before we see the actual transcripts should eliminate her from the race.
There are six obvious questions.
First, why do these talks begin in early 2013 and end in March 2015. Why wasn’t she riding this gravy train before 2013 and after March 2015?
Answer: As Secretary of State or as an elected official it was illegal for her to do paid speaking gigs. A violation of ethics laws. That is why Senator Bernie Sanders has not done paid gigs, and the few he did for pennies were all donated to charity. In fact, January 2013 was the first time Hillary could legally do something like this in decades.
Likewise, once Hillary formally announced her candidacy for president in April 2015 she could no longer legally do paid speeches for the same reason.
Second, so Hillary wasn’t breaking the law then. What’s the big deal? Answer: If Hillary retired in January 2013 and had no plans to return to public life whatsoever, and made her sentiments loudly known, this would not be such a big deal. But everyone knew Hillary was going to run for president and that she would enter the race with a commanding lead. That is why only Bernie, O’Malley and a few eccentrics even dared to enter the race against her. One suspects corporations might have been less willing to fork out so much money to a retired Secretary of State who had no presidential prospects. Celebrity retired Secretary of State Colin Powell ranks among the best compensated speakers among retired politicians, but he did not make $21.7 million over a two-year period for doing private corporate talks. Not even close. And anyway, he is not planning to run for president. She found a loophole—she could do corporate speeches for a huge fee as long as she was not a formal “announced” candidate—and drove a Mack Truck through it and all the way to Fort Knox. Violate the letter of the law? No. Violate the spirit of the law? Absolutely.
Third, So wait, you mean to tell me that other candidates for president have not routinely gone around and made vast fortunes doing private talks to the nation’s largest corporations just before they formally announced their candidacy? Isn’t that the American Way?
Answer: No other mid-career private citizen (not covered by ethics laws) in American history has ever done anything this brazen. Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Walter Mondale, were all private citizens like Hillary in the years before they ran for president. None of them did a corporate speaking tour. They did lots and lots of speeches during these years, but the talks tended to be to build up their political bases, not to make themselves fabulously wealthy. Hillary Clinton is truly a pioneer and trailblazer in this area.
Fourth: Hey wait a second. Hillary has said she was not at all sure she was going to run for president after she left the State Department. You some sort of mid-reader or what?
Answer: That is one of her defenses, but it simply does not comport with the documented record. At the very least, she was seriously entertaining the idea, and if that was the case she should not have been aggressively pursuing a corporate shakedown tour. Even if we allow her to claim she was just chilling in 2013 and not thinking at all about a presidential run, by 2014 she was seriously considering the issue. That means aroud 50 of these 91 talks and more than $10 million in personal income were during the period she was not a formal candidate but extremely very seriously entertaining the idea. Hillary apparently confided in associates by the end of 2014 that she was all in for a presidential run, though she did not announce until April 2015. During the first three months of 2015 the unannounced candidate Hillary Clinton did six of these talks for around $1.5 million. That’s a nice chunk of money for a few hours work. And, oh yeah, this was when Hillary went to Canada to do three of her private talks to pro-Keystone pipeline groups for $750,000. Nice work if you can get it. (Sure would like to see those transcripts, Hillary.)
Fifth: Hillary claims the money these firms paid her for the speeches has absolutely no influence over how she would conduct herself if she were to be elected president. Therefore this is a non-issue and just mudslinging by desperate opponents.
Answer: This is a flat out lie. Ethics laws prohibit the sort of corporate speaking gigs not because they prove that a bribe for a shakedown has definitively taken place. That is almost impossible to prove, and smart corporations and smart politicians would never put themselves in a position where their fingerprints would be on the weapon.
Ethics laws prohibit the appearance of impropriety. They prohibit politicians from putting themselves in a position where there were legitimate concerns that they were being compromised. Period. That is why what Hillary did from January 2013 to March 2015 was illegal when she was Senator or Secretary of State and became illegal again when she formally announced her candidacy for president in April 2015. There is not a legal bar that once must prove these payoffs were direct bribes. Otherwise Barack Obama or any public official could do $500 million in corporate talks this year and also claim innocence just like Hillary. Good luck proving otherwise. It is simply not an acceptable proposition for a democracy to allow people to collect massive speaking fees from corporations and claim it is no problem because they have no influence over them.
Sixth: I don’t get it then. Hillary was already rich. Her husband is extremely wealthy. Why would she be so short-sighted and greedy to do something that could jeopardize her presidential campaign?
Answer: I can only imagine that Hillary gambled that times had changed, and no one would care much if she raked in a quick $21.7 million while she was informally planning her 2016 presidential run. Everyone has a SuperPAC and everyone is out to get fabulously wealthy after a career in “public service.” If someone questioned her on taking the corporate speaking gigs, she would just say “Hey, everyone else does it,” that same way she responded to Bernie Sanders’ criticism of her Wall Street funded SuperPACS: “Hey, President Obama had Wall Street funded SuperPACs, too, so if you criticize me you must be attacking him, too.”
Hillary Clinton, like all the mainstream pundits and experts, made one fatal flaw in her calculations: she did not anticipate the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Two candidates running on anti-corruption platforms that refuse to have SuperPACS. If Bernie (and Trump) had not gotten in the race and become so successful, her risk might have paid off. Now she looks like she made an incredibly irresponsible and ethically challenged decision to hold these talks. According to Carl Bernstein, the White House is alarmed by the short-sighted greed Hillary displayed by doing these corporate talks. They think it could cost her the nomination.
If Bernie pursues the issue the White House may be proven right. If he does not, that delicious task will be left to the Republican nominee, who I suspect will show far less reticence about shouting about this from the mountaintops.