Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Golden Rules & Revolutions: A Series - V

April 16, 2008, 6:15 a.m.

Today is the fifth in a series, "Golden Rules & Revolutions." Here are the prior entries:

I - Income Disparity & Revolution
, April 12, 2008
. "Series Introduction," "Increasing income disparity, despair. . .," ". . . and Revolution"

II - Golden Rules & Fascism, April 13, 2008
. "The Golden Rule," "Fascism"

III - Money and Lobbyists in Politics: Washington, April 14, 2008

IV - Presidential Candidates and Lobbyists: McCain, April 15, 2008

# # #

Presidential Candidates and Lobbyists: Clinton

Part I of this series noted not just the gap in income between the rich and the poor, but the fact that this gap is continuing to grow ever wider, and that history -- as well as the daily news -- provides ample warning that this condition often produces revolution.

Part II began the exploration of the forces that may be shaping these potentially dangerous conditions -- including the ties between business and government eerily reminiscent of the early stages of what we used to call "fascism."

Part III took us to Washington for some general descriptions of how the system works, what campaign contributors get for their money, the role of lobbyists, and a columnist's description of one case study.

Part IV dealt with how the role of lobbyists extends beyond their manipulation of government into the pre-governing phase: presidential campaigns -- beginning with Senator John McCain.

Part V examines Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign from this perspective -- and tries to figure out who is the biggest "elitist."

Given the $2.79 billion that the special interests spend on lobbyists, as discussed in Part III, and the the millions and billions of dollars the special interests "invest" in "campaign contributions" (in state legislatures as well as Congress, and among the best investments these businesses ever make), it comes as no surprise that both lobbyists and campaign contributions also play a major role in the way we select our president.

Part IV noted that Senator John McCain was among the best in the U.S. Senate on these issues, and yet even he finds himself surrounded with lobbyists when he meets with his campaign staff.

And just as Part IV started with him because he was featured that evening [April 15] on Chris Matthews' MSNBC College Tour, so Part V is devoted to Senator Hillary Clinton today [April 16] because she and Senator Obama will be in an ABC-sponsored and televised debate this evening from Philadelphia, starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. (Check your local cable listings to confirm details.)

The Web site, Open Secrets, is a real service to an informed democracy. It provides the information a voter needs to evaluate the role of money in politics -- for everyone who cares enough to ask.

One of the things it reveals is who, among all the 22 presidential candidates -- Republicans and Democrats -- has raised the most money from a variety of special interest groups.

One of those 22 candidates was at the top of the list for each of these six special interest categories:

"Finance/Insurance/Real Estate" $18,187,699
"Lawyers & Lobbyists" $15,709,152
"Health" $4,494,032
"Construction" $2,122,098
"Defense" $307,425
"Labor" $198,733

And which of the 22 candidates was that? Who was chanting "We're Number One!" "We're Number One!"? None other than Senator Hillary Clinton.

Senator Clinton, who's finally made public income tax returns revealing she and her husband reported $109 million in taxable income since leaving office, who's wealthy enough to loan her own campaign $5,000,000; Senator Clinton, who's referring to a young working couple from South Chicago that has just paid off college loans as "elitist."

(Even her husband acknowledges their elite status: "At a performance at a union hall in Coatesville earlier on Tuesday [April 15], Bill Clinton said that he and his wife were now in the top one-tenth of one percent of taxpayers." Jill Abramson, "Michelle Obama on Elitism," New York Times: The Caucus, April 15, 2008, 8:08 p.m.)

I thought Michelle Obama -- now that's one woman I really do want in the White House -- handled it well:

Michelle Obama, appearing at Haverford College, gave a strong response to criticism that her husband’s remarks at a San Francisco fund-raising event were elitist.

“There’s a lot of people talking about elitism and all of that,” she told a gathering of students and townspeople on Tuesday, alluding to controversial remarks that Senator Barack Obama made at a San Francisco fund-raiser. “Yeah, I went to Princeton and Harvard, but the lens through which I see the world is the lens that I grew up with. I am the product of a working-class upbringing. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago in a working-class community.”

Then, referring to her husband’s student loans, she added sarcastically: “Now when is the last time you’ve seen a president of the United States who just paid off his loan debt? But, again, maybe I’m out of touch.”

Rebutting critics who called her husband’s remarks about economic bitterness out of touch, Mrs. Obama asked the crowd, “Am I telling you something that you don’t know? Am I in touch?”

She also stressed that her husband, raised by a young single mother, “didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth.”
Jill Abramson, "Michelle Obama on Elitism," New York Times: The Caucus, April 15, 2008, 8:08 p.m. [Photo credit: Philadelphia Daily News.]

And providing a plug for public schools, The Hotline reports, "'I want people to know when they look at me, to be clear that they see what an investment in public education can look like,' she said to a standing ovation." "Out of Touch?" National Journal: The Hotline/On Call, April 15, 2008.

Moreover, the pattern of Senator Clinton's ties to big money exists as well with regard to contributions from unaffiliated individuals.

"More than 442,000 people contributed to the [Obama] campaign in March, with more than 218,000 of them giving for the first time. The average contribution in March was $96; the total number of contributors to date comes to 1,276,000."
Michael Luo, "Obama Raises More Than $40 Million in March," New York Times: The Caucus, April 3, 2008, 10:42 a.m.

One would expect that Senator Obama, with an historically mind boggling number of contributors and total contributions, would be leading the pack in all categories of donors. But, no. An examination of the numbers shows something even more impressive and revealing about Senator Clinton.

So let's use the Open Secrets' data and compare.

Senator Obama has had 1.3 million donors averaging $96 dollars each. Those contributing less than $200 have provided 40% of Senator Obama's campaign funds. Donors in the under $200 class have provided only 23% of Senator Clinton's totals.

But those who maxed out with a $4600 contribution provided a mere 6% of Senator Obama's money, while providing the source of 24% of Senator Clinton's.

So he's the elitist and she's not? I don't think so.

Senator Hillary Clinton has defended lobbyists in general and her taking money from their clients' PACs in particular.

"GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: How about this point, though, that Senator Edwards raises? He says the fact that you're taking money from lobbyists symbolizes that you're part of the status quo, part of the failed politics of Washington.

CLINTON: . . . [T]here is this artificial distinction that people are trying to make. Don't take money from lobbyists, but take money from the people who employ and hire lobbyists and give them their marching orders. . . . [I]t's the people who employ the lobbyists who are behind all the money in American politics." "Transcript: he Democratic Debate: George Stephanopoulos Moderates Democratic Debate on a Special Edition of 'This Week,'" ABC News, August 19, 2007. (There are more precise, and defensive, statements, but this was the easiest to find with a quick search.)

The issue was back in the news in early April because it was discovered that she has the same problem of lobbyists in her campaign that was discussed in Part IV with regard to Senator McCain.

Although, in her case, the problem was, if anything, much worse.

One story that was especially embarrassing involved her "top advisor" Mark Penn.

"Mr. Penn had been working for a presidential primary candidate [Senator Clinton] opposed to the trade deal with Colombia, while also running a public relations firm hired by the Colombian government to promote it." Eric Lipton and Steven R. Weisman, "Wide Net Cast by Lobby for Colombia Trade Pact," New York Times, April 8, 2008. (Also "Howard Wolfson, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign communications director, was a partner at . . . the Glover Park Group, the fast-growing firm set up by former White House aides [that also] lobbied on behalf of the deal.")

It's one thing to use lobbyists to run your campaign -- a campaign funded by special interests and wealthy donors -- but it's quite another if those lobbyists are using their connections (as a staffer) with a potential future president to impress clients for whom the lobbyist is pushing a position supposedly opposed by the candidate for whom they are working.

Already charged with supporting (or remaining mostly silent) about NAFTA at the time while now claiming she opposed it then and now, the Clinton "support-opposition" to the Colombia trade deal is not limited to her lobbyist-staffers.

Bill Clinton voiced "support" for a controversial Colombia free-trade pact . . . and he accepted $800,000 in speaking fees from a group boosting the agreement, it was revealed yesterday.

The news came just two days after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton pushed her chief strategist, Mark Penn, from his post after he embarrassed the campaign by consulting with Colombia government officials over the trade deal.

In June 2005, Bill Clinton, who holds enormous sway as an adviser to his wife, was quoted . . . as publicly backing the trade pact at an appearance with Colombia President Alvaro Uribe.

"I will raise your point when you return to the United States," Clinton said . . .. "I am in favor of the free-trade agreement . . .."

The same month, Bill Clinton reaped the six-figure windfall from the Colombia-based development group Gold Service International -- a booster of the trade agreement -- for four speeches. . . .

Bill Clinton has had other meetings with Uribe since the speaking tour, including one at the Clinton home in Chappaqua with mining tycoon Frank Giustra, a donor to the former president's philanthropic foundation whose loan of his high-end jet to Bill has raised eyebrows.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Bill Clinton hosted a "philanthropic event" with Uribe - the purpose of which was to introduce Uribe to Giustra, who was interested in Colombian oil.
Maggie Haberman, "Trader Bill's 800G in Colombia Gold," New York Post, April 9, 2008.

Now I used to be a public lecturer, represented by a firm the New York Times once described as "the Tiffany of the lecture bureaus," the Leigh Bureau. So I know something about lecture fees -- though I was never the beneficiary of the current inflated fees for the top of the celebrity pack. (The University of Iowa paid Bill Clinton $50,000 for a lecture, and more recently paid Karl Rove $40,000.)

But what I do know is that when you are paid $800,000 for four lectures your benefactor is not paying lecture fees, they're trying to put an acceptable face on the purchase of something else.

It seems to me there are four points here in these two stories:

(1) Senator Clinton is in bed with lobbyists, including her husband, who are handsomely paid by the Colombian government to do whatever is necessary to get a trade deal passed that is opposed by American labor unions but will be favorable to U.S. and Columbian businesses,
(2) while she is trying to campaign for workers' support on grounds she opposes the deal, and, most significantly,
(3) that none of them see anything unusual or inappropriate about these relationships -- until they are brought to light by the media,
(4) illustrated by the fact that she represents she has, in effect, fired Mark Penn when in fact all she has done is to change his title and allow him to remain on two payrolls.
Business Week, one business of which is knowing each week which political candidates best represent its readers' corporate interests, told it all in this excerpt from its headline: "Clinton is pumping up the populist rhetoric . . . but as her record and contributions show, she's no enemy of Corporate America." Here are some excerpts from the story:

But while Clinton's talk is tough . . . her record and support base indicate she's hardly an enemy of American business interests. Some of the biggest names on Wall Street . . . have publicly endorsed Clinton. She has more maxed-out, executive-level donors than either Obama or Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and has pulled in $3.9 million from donors associated with the health-care industry, more than any other candidate. Donors affiliated with Goldman Sachs (GS) are her top contributors. . . .

In its most recent analysis of Senate voting records, the Chamber of Commerce gave Clinton a 67% favorable rating, compared with just 55% for Obama. (McCain rated 80% favorable.) Many business leaders recall the success of the economy of the late 1990s during Bill Clinton's Presidency . . ..

Wall Street is fairly comfortable with Clinton. "[She] has been a New York senator for seven years, and New York is the financial capital of the U.S. and the world," says Roger Altman, senior Clinton economic adviser and co-founder of Evercore Partners (EVR), an investment and advisory company in New York. "CEOs and other business leaders have had the chance to work with her [at] very close quarters. If you ask leaders of the financial community if there's anything to be afraid of, 80% or more would say no."

Indeed, some industries would gain considerably if Clinton were elected. Her "Economic Blueprint" calls for the creation of a $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund to support alternative energy industries. "With her record and proposals, there is great visibility in terms of what you get with Hillary Clinton," says Bryan Sherbacow, 39, chief operating officer of Charleston (S.C.)-based Ethanex Energy, an ethanol producer. . . . Sherbacow and his wife have maxed out on donations to Clinton, contributing $2,300 each for the primaries. . . .

Whether the nominee is Clinton or Obama, voters can expect the Democratic candidate to cater its economic message to its audience. "Any Democratic candidate for President walks a fine line between policy approaches that will strengthen the middle class and at same time retain good and credible working relationship with business," says Altman. "It's always a complex dynamic."

Moira Herbst, "Is Hillary Clinton Good for Business? Trailing Obama, Clinton is pumping up the populist rhetoric in Ohio and Texas. But as her record and contributions show, she's no enemy of Corporate America,"
Business Week, February 28, 2008.

It seems pretty clear what we'll be getting during another Clinton presidency with, as Mitt Romney said, "Bill Clinton "roaming around in the White House with nothing to do." See Katharine Q. Seelye, "Fewer Want Bill Clinton Back in the White House," New York Times: The Caucus, February 3, 2008, 3:32 p.m.

And you may want to agree with former President Calvin Coolidge that this is appropriate, that as he said, "the business of America is business." You may want a president who is financially supported by, comfortable with, and indebted to, the Wall Street "Finance/Insurance/Real Estate" interests -- those who play a disproportionate role in running the country anyway. If so, as she once said, "I'm your girl."

Otherwise, you might want to look around and see if there is an alternative.

# # #

No comments: