07/17/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Paying Off Clinton's Debt: Not A Dime For Mark Penn

Mark Penn hates you. Everything Penn believes in -- or, at least, everything he does to make money -- runs counter to the very change that millions of Americans are thirsting for. Barack Obama has signaled to his top contributors that they should help retire Sen. Clinton's campaign debt. There should be one demand by those willing to make such a contribution -- not a dime for Mark Penn.

It has been widely reported that Penn is owed several millions of dollars for his failed work for Sen. Clinton. Let's be clear: he will rake in millions more shilling for some of the most powerful corporate interests in the world. And, today, we know he has a new partner.

Today, The Wall Street Journal reports that Penn is teaming up with Bush advisor Karen Hughes:

Two hard-charging political operatives are teaming up to create a bipartisan consulting organization to advise corporations in crisis -- as they work to burnish their own reputations as well.

Former Clinton strategist Mark Penn, chairman and CEO of public-relations firm Burson-Marsteller, is hiring former Bush adviser Karen Hughes as a vice chairman, the principals say. The political combatants, known for their partisan efforts, decided to combine forces to offer a one-stop crisis-communication and public-affairs shop to corporations caught in front-page headlines or faced with a changing Washington.


In addition to his political clients, Mr. Penn also has advised Microsoft Corp., Coca-Cola Co. and Merrill Lynch & Co. Ms. Hughes, who worked two separate times in the Bush administration, is expected to bring in a chunk of new business, headed up by Republican-leaning chief executives who know her from her political life. She will be based in her hometown in Austin, Texas, and focus on issues from energy to health care.

This "bi-partisan" coupling will be designed to keep a corporate iron grip on policy in the name of the almighty "free market" -- and Mark Penn's wallet. Their "bi-partisanship" means any changes in health care will mean a continued powerful grip by corporations on the health and life of our families. Their "bi-partisanship" will mean defeating any attempts to change our country's trade policy, from one favoring corporations to one favoring workers and communities. Their "bi-partisanship" means you can forget about stronger oversight of corporate malfeasance. Their "bi-partisanship" means that any serious legislation to stop global warming will be watered down and made meaningless.

This "bi-partisanship" will mean an attempt to conduct business as usual in Washington and other legislative forums.

Mark Penn has hated everything about the movement for change for many years, long before he helped pilot the Clinton presidential campaign to disaster. Here is an excerpt from an article about Penn in the August 23rd 2007 edition of the Economist:

He is a visceral foe of the politics of class war as sometimes practised by Bob Shrum, who lost all eight of the presidential campaigns he worked on.

Mr Penn's centrism is partly a matter of personal sympathies. His strongest ties are to conservative Democrats. He cut his teeth working for Ed Koch in New York. He worked closely with the Democratic Leadership Council, and more generally with the so-called "national security" Democrats. He has a long record as a friend of Israel and as an advocate of regime change in Iraq. He helped to run Joe Lieberman's campaign in 2004.

It is also a matter of self-interest. Mr Penn is the very embodiment of the Washington-business nexus. The WPP Group, a public-relations giant, turned him into a multimillionaire when it bought his consulting firm in 2001. It then made him chief executive of one of its subdivisions, Burson-Marsteller, in 2005. Burson-Marsteller is a global behemoth with 100 offices in 59 countries, annual revenues of around $300m, and some of the world's biggest companies among its clients.

This suggests another difference: there is little chance that Mr Penn will try to wield Rove-sized influence over a Clinton White House. This would hardly be a sensible thing to attempt, given that Mrs Clinton's closest and smartest political adviser is her husband. But Mr Penn also has far too much on his plate. Mr Rove was single-mindedly focused on his master's political career (and, indeed, Mr Bush forced him to sell his direct-mailing company in 1999 in order to avoid any possible conflict of interest). Mr Penn continues to run Burson-Marsteller and to manage its Microsoft account himself. Conflict of interest be damned.

This all sounds like a formula for success: a brilliant pollster who will steer his candidate to the center but who will not try to turn an election victory into a White House empire. Perhaps it will be. But Mr Penn may have a weakness of his own -- his umbilical ties to business interests and his visceral distaste for anything that smells of populism. The left already regards him as exemplifying everything that is wrong with the Democratic establishment. Continued economic problems may intensify resentment of the Beltway fat cats. Mr Rove eventually fell because he tried to change American politics too much. Mr Penn's biggest problem -- and perhaps Mrs Clinton's too -- is that he wants to change too little.[The emphasis has been added]

Even the Economist understood that Penn's mission is, first and foremost, to serve himself and his business interests.

So, if anyone is inclined to donate to Sen. Clinton (and I am not arguing that point one way or another, though we need to remember that there are many small vendors and businesses who should not be stiffed), a message should first be sent to Sen. Clinton: not a dime for Mark Penn.

Let him choke on the millions of dollars he is owed -- every dollar he pockets is another dollar he will use to perpetuate the corporate hold our on our politics and every dollar he has to eat is a small repayment for the damage he has caused to the country with his business dealings and political activities.

Not a dime for Mark Penn.