Hillary Clinton gets a lot of criticism over all the big donors who contribute to her, her Super Pacs and her family’s foundation. Many people, especially her supporters, see nothing wrong with this, or claim that this is how the system works these days. Obama, after all took lots of big donations from Wall Street over the years. So do the Republicans. Perhaps it influences votes on certain legislation, or perhaps it doesn’t. So go the arguments.
However, in one instance, Hillary Clinton, while she was serving as Secretary of State, was able to obtain large donations to benefit the State Department. That’s right, donors to her family’s foundations came through with millions of dollars that was not provided for in the department’s budget approved by Congress.
More than a dozen donors to Clinton’s non-profit foundation and her various political campaigns poured money into an endowment she launched into 2010 to pay for the upkeep of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. The 42 sumptuous salons at State Department headquarters in Washington, decorated with 18th and 19th century American furnishings, are used to welcome foreign dignitaries, conduct diplomatic meetings and swearing-in ceremonies, and host official dinners.
By the following year, the campaign had raised more than $20 million to permanently fund restoration and maintenance for the rooms and their collections of rare American artwork, thanks largely to reliable Clinton donors.
Nearly half of the 37 people and organizations who donated to the State Department campaign, known as Patrons of Diplomacy, also gave money to the Clinton Foundation, according to State Department and foundation records. Of the eleven people who served as co-chairs for the campaign, agreeing to contribute their own money or to help raise funds from others, six also gave to the Clinton Foundation, a global charity started by former President Bill Clinton.
Did the donors do this out of patriotism, or a concern for the upkeep of our diplomatic reception rooms and their expensive antiques and artwork? Was it to make themselves look good or help their brand (having their name” etched in stone was one of several donor perks, according to a glossy 22-page brochure.”) Or did they do this in the hopes that, having made these contributions, it would provide access to Secretary Clinton or otherwise help them in matters their organizations had or might have before the Department of State? Who can say? The motivations of each donor do not come inscribed on the checks they gave to the endowment. And to be fair, the State Department’s endowment pre-existed Clinton’s time in office. This wasn’t some new idea she dreamed up on her own.
I suppose how you look at this beneficence on behalf of these wealthy individuals and corporations depends a great deal on how you view the enormous of amounts of money that has poured into our political system over the last several decades, and increasingly so since the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court.
A recent analysis of the 2014 Senate races by the Brennan Center for Justice found outside spending more than doubled since 2010, to $486 million. Outside groups provided 47 percent of total spending – more than the candidates’ 41 percent – in 10 competitive races in last year’s midterms.
“The premise that the Supreme Court was relying on, that these groups would be truly independent of the candidates themselves, is very questionable,” says Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, one of three Democrats on the six-member Federal Election Commission. […]
Of the $1 billion spent in federal elections by super PACs since 2010, nearly 60 percent of the money came from just 195 individuals and their spouses, according to the Brennan Center report. Thanks to Citizens United, supporters can make the maximum $5,200 donation directly to a candidate, then make unlimited contributions to single-candidate super PACs.
Both Democratic candidates have stated that Citizens united is not good for the country, though their statements on the matter are not exactly equivalent. Since he began his campaign, Senator Sanders has frequently stated that he wants the Citizens United decision overturned by the court itself or through a Constitutional amendment, as does President Obama.
“If elected president, I will have a litmus test in terms of my nominee to be a Supreme Court justice and that nominee will say that they are going to overturn this disastrous Supreme Court decision,” the Vermont independent said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Secretary Clinton’s statements on the matter have been for the most part on point with Senator Sanders’ views. In January of this year, this is what she had to say publicly about the money that has been dumped into our political finance system since the Supreme Court equated money, any amount of money, with free speech under the 1st amendment, that can only be regulated by government under certain very restricted circumstances.
It’s time to reclaim our democracy, reform our distorted campaign finance system and restore access to the ballot box in all 50 states.
That starts with reversing Citizens United. And that’s where my comprehensive plan to restore common sense to campaign finance begins. As president, I’ll appoint Supreme Court justices who recognize that Citizens United is bad for America. And if necessary, I’ll fight for a constitutional amendment that overturns it.
Meanwhile, we need more transparency in our politics. In the last three elections, more than $600 million in donations came from unknown, untraceable sources. That’s a lot of secret, unaccountable money. As president, I’ll require federal contractors to fully disclose their political spending. I’ll call on the Securities and Exchange Commission to require that publicly traded companies do the same. And I’ll fight for legislation requiring the disclosure of all significant political donations, no matter where they come from or who they benefit. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you should have to identify your donors.
That seems pretty clear cut and straightforward. However one chooses to view the manner in which she benefited from large sums of money raised by Super Pacs and bundlers in this election cycle, these statements by her are quite clear as to the policies she would pursue as President to eliminate, or ameliorate the effects of, Citizens United.
However, at other times she has implied she does not view her opposition to the massive amounts of money that has flooded into our political system since 2010 as all that important an issue, especially when she has been criticized for taking advantage of the new reality in campaign finance. She has frequently stated in her debates with Sanders that the large sums of money that she has raised over the years from lobbyist bundlers and now from Super Pacs that support her this year have not changed any of her votes in the past, nor will they influence her in the future.
This, in spite of the fact that her critics, from Elizabeth Warren to Glenn Greenwald have, fairly or unfairly depending on your point of view, asserted that her vote in favor of a “draconian bankruptcy bill” in 2001 (that bill failed, but a similar bill was passed in 2005 when Senator Clinton was absent from the Senate chamber) belies her claim that money has played no role in her decision making process. Other critics have often pointed to the monies received by the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative while she was Secretary of State, as evidence that those contributions led to favorable outcomes for donors who had dealings with the State Department under her time in office.
Much has been made about whether Secretary Clinton’s commitment to campaign finance reform can be trusted. Certainly the Trump has made it clear he intends to attack her on just this very point, recently taking to calling her “a crooked person”. He willingly acknowledges that he gave money to politicians of both parties, including Clinton and to the Clinton Foundation, before he began his own campaign for the GOP nomination.
Nonetheless, at least we know of one instance where Clinton’s connections to big donors paid off for the government. I’m sure the diplomats from foreign countries appreciate the restoration of the reception rooms our country provides when they come here to discuss important foreign policy matters with our Secretary of State or other diplomats representing our country.
And who knows. Perhaps Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee for SCOTUS will be approved by a lame duck Senate should the Democratic nominee win the election in November. Bill Moyers is at least cautiously optimistic that Garland, if appointed to the Court, would vote to reverse Citizens United. That would have an immediate effect on the 2018 midterm elections, and scale back to some degree the obscene amounts of campaign cash that has corrupted our political process. One can only hope that best case scenario will come to fruition.