Wayne O’Leary

Doin’ the Old Politics Rag

I promised myself some time ago that I would impose a personal moratorium on slamming the Clintons. Some temptations, however, are just too great to resist. Besides, Bill and Hillary not only deserve it, they literally beg for it. Case in point: the problematic relationship between the former first couple and contributors to Sen. Clinton’s political campaigns.

Some details have long been common knowledge. There are the hedge-fund managers seeking tax breaks, who bankrolled Hillary’s 2006 Senate re-election with contributions exceeded only by the cash they gave to Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman. There are the donations from the health-care industry, which has made her its number-one congressional recipient of political funds in return for championing aspects of its agenda, including privatized Medicare Advantage plans.

More recently, there is the massive flow of presidential-campaign dollars coming from political action committees, most of them business oriented—far more PAC contributions to Clinton (nearly $1 million for the year ending Dec. 31) than to any other candidate in either party. And finally, as reported in The Nation, there is the political money raised for Clinton’s White House run by bundlers with questionable backgrounds or outright criminal records—fugitive Hong Kong venture capitalist Norman Hsu ($850,000), Iranian-American PAC founder and private-equity speculator Hassan Nemazee ($500,000), and mystery financier and infamous former Harken Energy head Alan Quasha (amount unspecified)—footloose entrepreneurs who walk the narrow line that borders impropriety.

None of the above implicates Sen. Clinton in anything illegal. It does, nevertheless, suggest that the Clintons are willing to avert their eyes and extend their hands when money men show up at the door bearing tainted gifts. The latest suspicious character to cozy up to them is one Frank Giustra, a shady Canadian mining tycoon who has given $131 million to Bill’s charitable enterprises (via the William J. Clinton Foundation) in apparent return for gaining intros and business access to certain foreign leaders in developing countries.

This sort of thing, legal but unseemly, goes a long way toward explaining how the Clintons, poor as proverbial church mice upon vacating the White House, have parlayed their fame and political prominence into multi-millionaire status. (They’re said to be worth between $10 and $50 million all told.) Again, there’s nothing strictly wrong or illegal about this in the Land of Opportunity, but it’s still nice to know that Barack Obama, Hillary’s last remaining competitor for the Democratic nomination, has barely reached the rarified millionaires’ club. John Edwards had, but the former North Carolina senator at least acquired his millions the right way, by suing the hell out of corporate malefactors.

Sen. Clinton routinely dismisses any suggestion that the campaign money she receives, including from Washington lobbyists, influences in any way her political behavior. It’s a line all defenders of the sleazy fundraising system currently operating in the nation’s capital always use. But the inquiry is particularly pertinent with regard to the New York senator, since she and her husband were present, so to speak, at the creation.

It was during the 1980s, just prior to the Clintons’ ascension to power, that California Rep. Tony Coelho, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, sold his party on the idea of seeking corporate funding, as the Republicans had long done, to finance its political campaigns. The Clinton presidency, which followed almost immediately, thereby became the first (and, so far, the only) Democratic administration to depend on big business to replenish its war chests. Tapping into this source of special-interest financing has by now become second nature to the Clinton electioneering machine.

The problem is that business contributions, while easy to acquire, come with strings attached. Just how the incestuous system works in the case of the Clintons was illustrated last fall by two enterprising Washington Post reporters, John Solomon and Matthew Mosk, who delved deeply into the Clinton political operation during its post-Washington phase and revealed how money influenced policy. At issue was the subject of outsourcing, in particular the loss of American jobs to India.

Solomon and Mosk reported that Sen. Clinton, whose political affiliation is jokingly referred to in some circles as “D-Punjab,” aggressively sought campaign contributions from wealthy Indian-American businessmen and companies under their control or influence. One such entrepreneur raised $500,000 for Hillary’s 2000 Senate race, and Indian immigrants as a whole pledged $5 million for her 2008 presidential run. The quid pro quo included Clinton support over the years for expanded temporary-worker visas aimed largely at Indians seeking employment in American high-tech industries, as well as consistent backing of free-trade policies that moved technology jobs to the Asian subcontinent.

One specific instance of the effect of special-interest money on Clinton policy was the case of Tata Consultancy Services, a large Indian technology-outsourcing firm active in the US. As New York senator, Hillary brokered a deal that brought a branch of Tata to Buffalo in the western part of the state, with a promise of 100 permanent area jobs. Once its presence was established, however, the company quickly reduced the 100 on-site jobs to 10; the rest were transferred to Tata’s cheaper native workforce, either in India or on temporary visas elsewhere in this country. Meanwhile, according to Solomon and Mosk, the Clintons made eight separate visits to India and innumerable appearances before Indian-American groups, many of them beneficiaries of the Clinton-endorsed tech-worker visa program.

There are other evidences of the Clinton-India connection. As of last September, Indian-American events had netted Hillary over $2 million in campaign funds, and an Indian-American benefactor, the founder of a stateside tech firm, reportedly gave $1 million to Clinton causes and paid the former president $3.3 million as a business consultant. The D-Punjab designation affixed his wife the senator does not in this light seem far out of line.

In the end, the advice of Hal Holbrook’s Deep-Throat character in the film All the President’s Men to “follow the money” is apt when it comes to politics. More than that, it’s essential when evaluating the Clintons. Democratic primary voters considering Hillary Clinton for president had better ignore the promises and pledges, and look instead at the past record; it suggests that in Clinton Land, he who pays the piper calls the tune.

Wayne O’Leary is a writer in Orono, Maine, specializing in political economy. He holds a doctorate in American history and is the author of two prizewinning books.

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2008

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