POLITICS
09/30/2015 05:53 pm ET

Huge Leaked-Audio Revelation! Hillary Clinton Still Supports Thing!

Yes, we need reporters infiltrating political fundraisers, but they have to do better than this.

In this broken future of ours, it makes me happy that we could be on the precipice of a golden age of reporters ferreting recordings out of political fundraisers and onto the web. Yes, please! There's almost nothing more valuable than documenting the weird people who'll spend thousands of dollars on our political figures and what our political figures promise these oddballs in return. We need more of this, across the board, to keep emphasizing the extent to which our political system is drowning in plutocratic boodle and, hopefully, to propel a popular movement to reform this corrupt system.

But here's the thing: Not every recording can be Barack Obama's "clinging to guns and religion" or Mitt Romney's "47 percent." You know, the hits! Those moments when a conversation between a politician begging for money and the people with deep pockets takes a sudden, crazy turn to points unknown and out of touch with the American people.

So what do you do with a piece of audio that's, well, more or less ho-hum? That's the position that the Washington Free Beacon's Alana Goodman and Lachlan Markay find themselves in today.

Hillary Clinton says thing she's said before.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Hillary Clinton says thing she's said before.

The two reporters obtained surreptitiously recorded audio from a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in New York City, which is all to the good. But what they've offered up from the effort is a 68-second clip in which Clinton ... professes support for a national infrastructure bank?

Wait. Seriously? That's it? I'm only asking because Clinton's been promising a national infrastructure bank for some time and with astonishing regularity. At this point, proposals for national infrastructure banks are so commonplace that they're all blurring together. So why is this noteworthy? It would seem that it's noteworthy because Clinton also mentioned the Clinton Global Initiative. From the audio:

"The Clinton Global Initiative that my husband started has a project with a lot of labor union pension funds. They have put $15 billion into a fund to train workers to be able to do energy efficiency and other clean energy work. ... Think of what we can do on a national scale. ... This is a win-win."

The Free Beacon calls the Clinton Global Initiative a "controversial non-profit," which, well, sure. I tend to think of CGI as a potentially potent campaign weapon and a cagey quid-pro-quo mechanism. You shouldn't underestimate how much favor will be showered on the leaders of an organization that can launder the karma of a corporate brand by helping it to perform a bit of high-visibility, celebrity-zazzled philanthropy.

The Beacon reporters' problem is that they aren't using this audio to further the idea that CGI is controversial. They trust that's self-evident. All the audio has proven is that Clinton will happily keep talking about CGI, regardless of anyone's free-floating opinions about the organization.

The odd thing is, the audio does suggest a way to bedevil Clinton, demonstrate a controversy and potentially get Clinton to stop talking about CGI as a personal asset. Why not find out whether the project Clinton mentions is actually doing anything constructive or worthwhile? Because imagine if you can demonstrate that it's a flop -- or worse, a boondoggle! Then you get to write about a conspicuous CGI failure (which puts a bit of meat on that bone of controversy) and discuss how Clinton is selling a failed project to donors on the campaign trail as an example of something she'd do as president. And if her campaign said no such salesmanship was occurring? Bang, you drop the audio.

Shouldn't have blown that wad, guys! Because what's left is sort of threadbare. There are, as Goodman and Markay cite, some people in the Clinton orbit that could benefit from a national infrastructure bank. Robert Wolf, CEO of consulting firm 32 Advisors, is a Clinton and CGI donor who has teamed up with CGI donor and noted infrastructure bank enthusiast Michael Likosky. They could potentially make some money if there's a national infrastructure bank. So could CGI donor Mary Scott Nabers, who runs her own consulting firm and who specializes in public-private ventures.

So they're out there, Clinton boosters who run consulting firms. Or at least two of them. Of course, a lot more than two people could benefit from an infrastructure bank, but it all depends on the details of how the bank is set up -- what it could finance, what its lending terms would be, how it was capitalized, et cetera. It could be an opportunity for good, constructive policy, or it could be a monument to cozenage and pillaging, or it could be both.

Also, unions would benefit! Per the Free Beacon:

Labor unions, which represent a major voting bloc and well of financial support for Clinton, would also benefit significantly from a national infrastructure bank.

Sure, and they'd also benefit significantly from repealing the Affordable Care Act's "Cadillac tax," which is another thing that Clinton has promised to do. But yeah, breaking news: Labor unions tend to find Democratic candidates to be less hostile to their political and economic interests.

Here's the thing, though. This is a discussion that doesn't require the "EXCLUSIVE! LEAKED! AUDIO!" cloak-and-dagger melodrama to be relevant. I keep looking for the way in which this 68 seconds pays off, above and beyond Clinton's already well-recorded public statements and long-known political connections, and it never reveals itself.

You know what also had some potential? As the Free Beacon reports, Clinton had this fundraiser at the home of John Zaccaro, son of one-time vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro and a guy who was convicted of selling cocaine but didn't exactly do hard time for the crime. Maybe Zaccaro's super-lenient punishment is the inspiration for Clinton's campaign stance against mass incarceration? Maybe Zaccaro would say that it's crazy that people who hail from a less-privileged background receive a lot more jail time for the crime he committed? Or maybe he won't.

I'm just trying to think about what they talk about. Man, all I know is that it would have been pretty cool to get a recording of that conversation!

Anyway, this was a lot of effort to find out that Clinton was serious the first six times she said she supported a national infrastructure bank and that such a bank would probably financially benefit some people. Probably the worst thing about trying to costume this meager scoop as a major controversy is that it comes at a cost for the Free Beacon, which has now tipped its hand to the Clinton campaign -- "Hey, we'll be up in your fundraisers, with our recording devices."

So! If everyone in attendance at those events suddenly becomes a lot more circumspect from here on out, now you'll know why.

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