THE BLOG

The Soft Corruption of Clinton, Inc. -- And How It Could Cost Democrats the Presidency

05/05/2015 01:43 pm ET | Updated May 05, 2016
Andrew Burton via Getty Images

No one has even come close in recent years to enriching themselves on the scale of the Clintons while they or a spouse continued to serve in public office. The ability of any other ex-politician, when a former president, or congressman, Republican or Democrat, to accumulate such large amount of money in such a short period of time is unmatched.

-- Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Business Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, Peter Schweitzer, May, 2015

[Hillary] Clinton offered a message that the collected plutocrats found reassuring... declaring that the banker-bashing so popular within both political parties was unproductive and indeed foolish...

What the bankers heard her to say was just what they would hope for from a prospective presidential candidate: Beating up the finance industry isn't going to improve the economy -- it needs to stop.

--Politico on Hillary Clinton's confidential $400,000 speeches to Goldman Sachs, Dec. 2013

ELIZABETH WARREN The industry that gave the most money to Washington over the past few years was... credit [card banks].

BILL MOYERS: And Mrs. Clinton was one of them, as senator?

WARREN: She has taken money from these groups, and more to the point, she worries about them as a constituency.

MOYERS: So, can we ever have a government that works for everyday people... when our elected officials switch sides like that and pay more attention to the donors than to the voters?

WARREN: The government runs for those who can make their voices heard. And they mostly make their voices heard through their lobbyists, through their campaign contributions. And that means over and over and over the tilt is in favor of the rich and the powerful.

MOYERS: To be frank, Mrs. Clinton... is the embodiment of that establishment.

-- Moyers and Company, PBS

We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrations in the hands of a few, but we canot have both.

--Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

***

If you're someone who wants to lessen the dominance of concentrated wealth over our political system, end the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington, significantly reduce income inequality and avoid foolish wars, do not be deceived that Hillary Clinton is your ally.

Moreover, if the Democrats anoint Hillary as their nominee, there is a significant danger that public disgust at her soft corruption, and lack of trust in the veracity of her campaign pledges, could lead to a Republican becoming the next President.

For their entire political careers, the Clintons have been servants of the oligarchy. Since President Clinton left office, they have parlayed the presidency and State Department into tens of millions of dollars in personal wealth, paid for by the oligarchy, which has in turn transformed them from mere servants to full-fledged members of the oligarchy. They have transformed the presidency and the State Department into the biggest revolving door of all between Washington and Wall Street.

If the only choice we have for President in 2016 is between a corporate neoliberal like Hillary Clinton and a reactionary corporate Republican who wants to roll back the New Deal and deny minorities, immigrants and gays basic human rights, Clinton is still the less bad choice. If nothing else, the prospect that the next President could get as many as three Supreme Court nominees is reason enough to vote for Hillary Clinton over a right-wing Republican.

But, if that's the only choice accorded to American voters, it's a sad commentary on the corrupt, money-dominated, state of American "democracy."

Both Clinton and the Republican nominee are projected to raise over $2.5 billion in campaign funds directly and through Super Pacs and dark money organizations -- levels of campaign financing that can only come from individuals and corporations with great concentrations of wealth and not from small donors. Whatever the campaign rhetoric, differences in government policy will occur only on the margins.

"Clinton, Inc." -- the Clinton's interconnected trifecta of political fundraising from wealthy donors, paid speeches for hundreds of thousands of dollars an hour to Wall Street bankers and corporations, and contributions to their foundation from foreign governments and domestic oligarchs to curry favor -- has taken the soft corruption of American politics to a new level of sophistication.

It's not illegal bribes (so-called "quid pro quo" corruption) that are at the heart of the corruption of American politics by concentrated wealth -- there may be no smoking gun where it can be proven that the Clintons took a campaign contribution, a foundation donation, or a six-figure speaking fee in exchange for an explicit promise at the time to take a specific government action on behalf of the donor. (Although, to be fair, something pretty close to a quid pro quo bribe in the web of Clinton, Inc. fundraising could well be disclosed in the course of the campaign, which could sink her candidacy and guarantee a Republican President. )

The heart of the corruption of American politics is what the Supreme Court considers legal -- it's the use of money to buy access and influence policy, which millionaires and billionaires can afford and ordinary citizens cannot. And no one in American history has better perfected a system for selling access and influence than Clinton, Inc.

It's not that Republicans are any better. If anything, their ostensibly legal corruption is even more blatant and less subtle than the Clintons'. Think of the "Adelson Primary" or the "Koch Primary" in which Republicans scurry to court favor with a handful of billionaires in the hopes of receiving hundreds of millions of campaign cash. Would Republicans be so aligned with Netanyahu were Adelson not also one of Netanyahu's biggest political supporters? Would they be such climate change skeptics were it not for the dirty energy business of the Kochs?

And what Jeb Bush's manipulation of what remains of campaign finance laws by pretending he's not actually running for President while raising tens of millions in unregulated personal money for Super Pacs run by his closest campaign aids.

The soft corruption is bipartisian.

And as long as this soft corruption persists, it will be impossible to solve any of the nation's biggest problems.

There is no Democrat less able to credibly stand up to this soft corruption than Hillary Clinton, the master of its use.

What were the most important laws that Bill Clinton supported and signed as President? Welfare reform, which made poor people poorer; NAFTA, which led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs; The Graham-Leach-Biley Act, which repealed the Glass-Steagal Act which for nearly 60 years had barred taxpayer-insured banks from making risky bets in securities; and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which banned the government from regulating derivatives. These Clinton-backed laws, vigorously lobbied for by the financial industry, made lots of bankers lots of money and helped lead to the financial collapse of 2008 and the taxpayer bailout of the too-big-to-fail banks.

What were Hillary Clinton's most noteworthy votes as Senator? Voting to authorize George Bush's invasion of Iraq (perhaps the most damaging blunder in the history of American foreign policy); and voting for the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2001, which was heavily lobbied for by the banking industry (and strongly opposed by Elizabeth Warren) and which would have made it harder for ordinary people with the misfortune of losing a job or getting sick to discharge their debts in bankruptcy.

So when push came to shove, on the important economic issues, Bill and Hillary Clinton were loyal servants of the oligarchy.

But that's not all. After leaving the White House and State Department, Bill and Hillary pedaled their influence as a past President and a potential future President into oligarchic personal wealth for themselves personally.

The oligarchy, and particularly the banking industry, richly rewarded them, and made a down payment on the future loyalty of a possible President Hillary Clinton with ten of millions of dollars in speaking fees and contributions to the Clinton Foundation which turned the Clintons into multimillionaire members of the oligarchic class themselves.

There are two reasons to be concerned about the Democrats nominating Hillary Clinton without a credible challenge from someone (Elizabeth Warren, are you listening?) who is not dominated by the soft corruption of indebtedness to concentrated wealth that Hillary Clinton is.

The first is that if elected, Clinton will likely continue the revolving door of Wall Street financiers being the prime economic advisors to both Democratic and Republican Presidents, the interests of the wealthy will continue to come before those of ordinary Americans, and America continue counterproductive military interventions in foreign lands.

The second, and even more dangerous reason, is that voter distrust rooted in the Clintons' soft corruption could lead her to lose the Presidency to a right-wing Republican who would be even worse Hillary might not confront the power of the oligarchy. But even a corporate Democrat such as Hillary is likely to try to protect the most important elements of the New Deal and Great Society social safety net like Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance and the (weak but better than nothing) Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank Act, even if she negotiates to weaken them at the margins.

If any of the Republican contenders win the presidency, they will lead a full-on charge to dismantle what's left of the social safety net for poor and middle class Americans, seeking to privatize Social Security, turn Medicare into a voucher system, and gut even the weak financial regulation of the Dodd-Frank act, and appoint more right-wing justices to the Supreme Court. Such an outcome would be a catastrophe for all but the top one percent.

But Hillary Clinton's soft corruption makes it impossible for her to credibly run a campaign focused on the public's disgust at both Washington and Wall Street. Though even more beholden to big money, there's a serious danger that a Marco Rubio or a Scott Walker could run an effective right-wing populist campaign against Hillary Clinton as a corrupt leader of the past. In addition, Rubio or Jeb Bush might be able to shave off enough Hispanic support for Democrats to narrowly win some key swing states.

There's too much complacency in the Democratic Party. Too many Democrats just can't wrap their head around the idea that Hillary Clinton could lose to a seeming lightweight like Marco Rubio or Scott Walker or to a third President Bush. But that complacency -- which has led Democrats to concede to the inevitability of Hillary's nomination, is extremely dangerous.

In what's likely to be a very close presidential election, the winner will be the candidate who can best mobilize the enthusiasm of his or her supporters to get to the polls. There's no doubt that the Republican base will be highly motivated to take back the White House after eight years of Obama. But there's reason to doubt that a candidate as compromised by big money as Hillary Clinton can turn out the "Obama coalition" of young people and minorities in sufficient numbers for Democrats to win a third straight Presidential election (something that has been done by the party in power only twice since World War II).

In Obama's wins, African-American voters were 13% of the electorate, while in the eight prior Presidential elections they never made up more than 11% and were as little as 8% when Bill Clinton first won in 1992. A lower black turnout for Hillary could lead to Democrats losing key swing states like Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. When it comes to young people, Obama won 18-29 year olds by 30% in 2008 and 20% in 2012, while between 19992-2004 Democrats won 18-24 year olds by an average of 11.5% and 25-29 year olds by an average of only 7%.

It's hard to imagine young people turning out in the same numbers, or giving Hillary the same margins, in an election that appears to be a nostalgic look back at the '90s when they were hardly born. And are the millennials who were inspired by Obama's message of hope and change -- many of whom are now disillusioned eight years later and saddled with student debt and low-paying jobs -- going to come out for Hillary in the same numbers that they came out for Obama? A fall-off in the youth vote could result in Democratic losses in several key states including Colorado and North Carolina.

Moreover, George W. Bush received 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004 and 35% in 2000, compared to only 27% for Mitt "self-deportation" Romney in 2012. If the Republican nominee is Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio and he could increase the Republican Hispanic vote to even the 35% 2000 levels, it could move key states like Florida, Colorado and others into the Republican column.

Meanwhile, during the period since Hillary Clinton formally announced her candidacy amidst controversy over her fundraising and email practices, her negatives have dramatically jumped. A May 4 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that in the past 7 weeks, the share of people with a negative view of her jumped from 36% to 42% and only a quarter of registered voters said she is honest and straightforward, down from 38% last summer.

With no serious contenders to Hillary's coronation as the Democratic nominee, much less a serious contender without her history of soft corruption, what will Democrats do if a month or two into the primary season next year, more evidence of Clinton corruption has been revealed or she is sinking in the polls?

Despite the increasingly populist surge among grassroots Democratic voters, the fact that there are no credible Democratic opponents to Hillary's nomination is a testament to the Clinton money machine's dangerous ability to dominate national Democratic politics.

I don't know whether Elizabeth Warren's reluctance to enter the race is due to her personal reluctance to undergo the rigors of a national Presidential campaign, or because she fears being crushed by the Clinton money machine.

But if Sen. Warren sincerely believes in the principals about which she speaks so eloquently, as the only progressive Democrat with the stature to credibly challenge Hillary Clinton for the nomination, it's incumbent on her to enter the race. First, there are significant policy differences between the Warren wing and the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party: Warren knows in her bones that it will be impossible to significantly reduce income inequality and improve the life of the middle class and poor without confronting the political power of concentrated wealth.

While Clinton may adopt some populist rhetorical flourishes, and take some baby steps to try to help the middle class, her nearly 40 years in public life have been dedicated to cozying up to concentrated wealth and, since 2000, accumulating a goodly share of it for herself. Under a Hillary Clinton Presidency, concentrated wealth will continue to dominate American politics.

Second, Hillary's soft corruption, and the distrust she instills in too many voters, could lead to a Democratic defeat. It may seem counterintuitive, but nominating Elizabeth Warren could allow the Democrats to again seize the banner of change and inspire millions of otherwise complacent voters to come to the polls.

A Republican Presidential victory in 2016 would be disastrous to the country and disastrous to the middle class and poor. But that could be the sad outcome if no serious Democratic challenger takes on the soft corruption of Clinton, Inc.

And if Hillary Clinton is anointed the next Democratic Presidential nominee and manages to defeat any of the prospective Republican nominees, the United States will continue to have great wealth concentration and little meaningful democracy.