Hillary Clinton has been criticized for her close ties to Wall Street. Criticism that her rival, Bernie Sanders, has used frequently against her on the debate stage. She accepted over $44 million from the industry in campaign contributions and speaker fees, and Sanders questioned her ability to rein in Wall Street.
You can’t take on Wall Street banks and billionaires by taking their money. #DebateWithBernie
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) December 20, 2015
Hillary Clinton didn’t take that criticism lightly. She called Sanders’s criticism an “artful smear,” and that he was insinuating that she was bought by the industry. Clinton asserted that Wall Street support to her never influenced or changed her views or votes.
Now let’s be objective for a moment.
Let’s argue that Clinton is right. Let’s argue that her policies and votes were never changed or influenced because of campaign contributions from Wall Street or elsewhere. Let’s argue that Elizabeth Warren was wrong when she stated that Wall Street influenced Clinton’s vote on the bankruptcy bill when she served in the Senate. Let’s argue that there’s nothing concerning in the three speeches she gave at Goldman Sachs where she received $675,000, despite reports to the contrary. Let’s argue that she really had no idea that she was going to run for president when she gave these speeches. Let’s argue that the millions in contributions from the insurance and fossil fuel industries have nothing to do with her changed position on healthcare or her support for fracking.
Let’s argue all that. Shouldn’t that be enough to dispel any concerns about her pledge to fight the influence of money in politics?
The simple answer is no. I argue that Clinton is killing any hope for Campaign Finance Reform, and here’s why:
Hillary Clinton Embracing Citizens United
In the controversial Citizens United ruling six years ago, Citizens United lawyers argued that there is no clear evidence that large campaign contributions will lead to direct corruption in the form of “quid pro quo” transactions, or direct exchange of votes for cash. While Clinton made reversing Citizens United decision a campaign promise, she actually makes the case for Citizens United lawyers’ and agreeing with their limited definition of corruption. She said: “You will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received.”
It’s a brilliant defence argument. Clinton puts the burden of proof on Sanders and the voters to prove that she was directly bribed. Absent such evidence, she’s innocent until proven guilty.
The problem with that defence line, Clinton inadvertently defended every other politician, especially Republicans who take millions in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry and Wall Street. For example, Clinton recently said that most Republicans are skeptical of climate change because the Koch brothers tell them to. But wait a second! Does she have evidence that their contributions changed the Republicans’ views or votes in the form of “quid pro quo”? Wouldn’t that be considered an “artful smear”?
When Woodruff asked Clinton in the sixth Democratic debate regarding this, her answer was underwhelming: “I can’t speak for the Koch Brothers.”
The Curious Case of Prison Lobby Contributions
Private prison lobbyists were top fundraisers for Clinton. Lee Fang reported in The Intercept that “Clinton and other candidates revealed a number of lobbyists who are serving as “bundlers” for their campaigns. Bundlers collect contributions on behalf of a campaign, and are often rewarded with special favors, such as access to the candidate.”
According to Clinton’s previous analogy, no one should be concerned that these contributions would influence her views or votes. We should not question her pledge to end the era of mass incarceration.
However, Clinton later announced, under pressure from Black Lives Matter activists, that she will no longer accept money from the prison lobby, and will donate all previous donations to charity. But wait a second! What’s so unique about these contributions that accepting them is no longer justifiable?
Clinton spokesman explains that the policy against accepting prison lobby contributions is “one of many ways that [Clinton] believes we need to rebalance our criminal justice and immigration systems.”
But with that same token, wouldn’t a policy against accepting Wall Street money be “one of many ways to rein in Wall Street?” I guess not!
The truth of the matter is that Clinton made that decision because she can afford to lose these contributions, but cannot lose the support of African Americans who are very sensitive to this issue. Shall I dare say that it’s nothing but political expedience?
How Important Is Campaign Finance Reform to Hillary Clinton?
Clinton attacked Sanders for being a one-issue candidate “whose relentless focus on Wall Street excess and exorbitant political spending would do little to improve the lives of Americans.” This absurd attack was frequently mocked in mainstream and social media, but Clinton was right about one thing: Sanders puts a lot of emphasis on the impact of money in politics. She, on the other hand, thinks that Campaign Finance Reform “would do little to improve the lives of Americans.”
This statement worried me greatly. It shows that Clinton doesn’t understand how money influences the political process, and the extent of that influence. A study by Princeton University (see video below) showed that the likelihood of a policy being passed by Congress is not influenced in any form or shape by public opinion. This invalidates the very concept of democracy and “We the People” principle. Shockingly, however, the likelihood of a policy being passed in Congress correlates well with the interests of the wealthy! The study then explains how money in politics is what caused this phenomenon. In other words, there’s empirical evidence that the United States is effectively an oligarchy or a plutocracy. This problem is so significant to anyone who values democracy that it compelled the Harvard Professor, Lawrence Lessig, to launch a one-issue presidential campaign to fight the influence of money in politics.
What Makes Soros So Special?
The billionaire George Soros spent $8 million to support Clinton. Haim Saban donated another $6.4 million. To put those into perspective, these contributions represent about 530,000 small contributions from Sanders supporters. I guess that’s fair game!
Even if we agree that their contributions wouldn’t influence Clinton to change her views or positions, no objective person would doubt that these contributions wouldn’t help prop her in a way that an ordinary person couldn’t do to their favorite candidate. It doesn’t matter how great of a person Clinton is or how great of a person Soros is. In a democracy, all citizens, regardless of their income, should have equal say in the governing process. But there’s something profoundly wrong when the contributions of two people match that of an entire city!
But that’s not all. I was shocked to learn that Soros regretted backing Obama in 2008 because “when Soros wanted to meet with Obama in Washington to discuss global economic problems, Obama’s staff failed to respond.”
But wait a second! What gives Soros the impression that the President of the Free World is indebted to him that he demands a meeting with the President? Let’s take a wild guess! Would a teacher, a union worker or a firefighter who donated to Obama’s campaign expect the same treatment from the President?
We both know the answer to this question. Soros with his large contributions feels that he earned more access, more privilege than the average American. This is not what democracy is about.
Clinton, on the other hand, catered to Soros needs. The hill reports that “[Soros has] been impressed that he can always call/meet with [Clinton] on an issue of policy.” This is very concerning. What makes him so special?
Exploiting Super PAC Loopholes
Clinton tried to distance herself from her Super PAC, Priorities USA. On the sixth Democratic debate, Clinton said Priorities USA is “a super PAC that we don’t coordinate with, that was set up to support President Obama that has now decided they want to support me.” David Sirota and Andrew Perez reported in International Business Times that this claim is simply false. Clinton was personally involved to court donations for the Super PAC, and her husband was a “special guest” at donor meetings.
Now you may argue that Clinton had no choice but to start a Super PAC to have a chance of beating the Republicans in the General Election. But what I couldn’t possibly understand is why would Clinton need to exploit loopholes in the very law that she’s trying to reverse? Super PAC’s are not allowed to coordinate with the campaign, but her second Super PAC, “Correct the Record” has confirmed that it already exploits a loophole to coordinate with the campaign.
DNC Decision to Accept Federal Lobbyists
Barack Obama was very courageous when he introduced a ban on donations from federal lobbyists and political action committees in 2008. The DNC, however, decided to lift this ban recently. Campaign Finance Reform activist, Fred Wertheimer, decried this decision and said that “it is completely out of touch with the clear public rejection of the role of political money in Washington.”
Sanders was quick to criticize the decision, and pressed Clinton to join him in that stance. Until the writing of this article, Clinton has yet to issue a statement regarding the ban. Is it possible that this has something to do with the prospect that this ban “could provide an advantage to Hillary Clinton’s fundraising efforts?”
There’s some good news, however! We can always cross our fingers and hope for the best.
This piece was originally published on Daily Kos.