Books

Excerpt from 'My Turn,' a Critical Doug Henwood Book on Hillary Clinton

Politics, the family business of the Clintons, has been very good to them, as they have raised between $2 billion and $3 billion since 1992.

Photo Credit: Sarah Sole

The following is an excerpt from the new book My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency by Doug Henwood (OR Books, 2016): 

The title of Daniel Halper’s book, Clinton, Inc., is key to understanding the family. Unlike the Bush family, neither Bill nor Hillary was born into anything near the ruling class. There was no Prescott Bush—the son of a steel company president who went to Yale, joined Skull and Bones (just like his son and grandson), and later became a banker and then a senator—in their separate pasts. Bill was born poor, in one of the poorest states in the country and into an unstable family, while Hillary was born into the provincial petty bourgeoisie. Entry into elite schools was their ticket to eventual membership in the ruling class; it took decades of striving for them to get there.

Once established, however, politics became the family’s business, and it’s been very good to them. A 2014 Wall Street Journal analysis showed that the Clintons have raised between $2 billion and $3 billion since 1992—more than three-quarters of it from industry sources—for their campaigns, philanthropies, and themselves. At the top of the list of corporate donors were financial firms, and highest up among them was Goldman Sachs. Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase gave generously as well. Not far behind Wall Street were communications/electronics firms and then, that perennial bedrock of Democratic Party support, lawyers and lobbyists. Those three sectors alone contributed more than ten times as much as organized labor, which pitched in just $41 million of the total over the period of the Journal’s study.

It’s hard to separate the Clintons’ personal fortune from the Foundation’s; the perks it provides are a form of imputed consumer services, to use the language of national income accounting—jetting all over, staying in fancy hotels, eating very well, and the rest. But they have been prodigious earners on their own account. Bill did most of the heavy financial lifting, earning $105 million from speeches in the dozen years after he left the White House; a good week could yield $1.4 million. According to work by the website 24/7 Wall St, Bill is the 10th-richest of our presidents, with a net worth of $55 million. (Five of the 10 richest presidents have been Democrats, compared to two Republicans, and on average, Democratic presidents are more than three times richer than Republicans.) But Hillary wasn’t just sitting around baking cookies: she’s worth $32 million, according to a Politico analysis. The property taxes on their two houses, one in D.C. and the other, for which they paid $4.5 million, in Westchester, are $104,000, twice the average household’s income. It’s a good life they’ve made for themselves.

The Foundation’s travel expenses alone are striking. According to a 2013 New York Post analysis, the Foundation spent over $50 million on air travel over the previous decade—$12 million of it in 2011 alone, “enough to buy 12,000 air tickets costing $1,000 each,” or 33 a day. Of course it’s true that the Post is a Rupert Murdoch newspaper and might be expected to cast the Clintons in the worst possible light. But before any Democrat says, “Yeah, but that’s the Murdoch press!,” recall that Rupert threw a fundraiser for Hillary’s Senate campaign in 2006 and told Fortune that he “could live with” a Hillary presidency. All told, News Corp and other Murdoch properties have given the Clintons over $3 million since 1992, according to a tally by the Wall Street Journal, also a Murdoch property.

Value for Money

Wealth porn is always stimulating, but, besides providing the Clintons with a luxurious life, what do all those donations actually mean? According to Donald Trump, it was his contributions that persuaded Hillary to attend his wedding in 2005 (Hillary later claimed she went only because she thought it would be “fun”). But what else have these vast inflows of cash achieved?

On its appearance in May 2015, Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash was roundly denounced by the Hillary camp, though the more honest members of her intellectual enforcers conceded that its central message—that the family business looks a lot like a lucrative shakedown and influence-peddling operation—did present some image problems. In the New York Review of Books, Michael Tomasky worried about a biased media making too much of Schweizer’s claims as the presidential campaign began to heat up. It’s funny how often the Clinton camp accuses reporters of bias against the Clintons, of an irrational hatred even, as if they’d never done anything to earn the dislike. But Tomasky does recognize that there’s a problem: 

"A presidency can’t have questions like this swirling around it from day one. Imagine speculation that a White House decision with regard to Russia or Pakistan was influenced by a donation to the foundation from someone pursuing a business deal in one of those countries." 

After pleading with the Clintons to clean up their act, if only for appearance’s sake, Tomasky admits that they probably won’t, leading him to a heartstring-tugging final line: “[I]t’s hard on a lot of other people.”

Apart from his message, Schweizer’s résumé gets the Hillaryites all bent out of shape. He is a conservative who has advised and ghostwritten for Republican politicians. He also appears to have made mistakes in his research, too, some of which were corrected in a revised Kindle edition. And, as the Clintonites like to emphasize, he found no smoking gun—a point that Schweizer himself concedes, more than once: 

"The Clintons aren’t stupid people. They know the law and take pains to operate within it. Besides, corruption of the kind I have described in this book is very difficult to prove. We cannot ultimately know what goes on in their minds and ultimately prove the links between the money they took in and the benefits that subsequently accrued to themselves, their friends, and their associates. That said, the pattern of behavior I have established is too blatant to ignore, and deserves legal scrutiny by those with investigative capabilities that go beyond journalism."

In other words, a mere journalist can’t uncover the smoking gun. You need someone with subpoena power to get to the bottom of it all. 

The recurrent pattern of benefits and favors looks too established to be a long series of accidents. I’m not going to quote extensively from Schweizer’s book, because it will encourage defenders of Hillary to focus on the source rather than the content. He does, however, make an important point that passed muster with PolitiFact: of the thirteen speeches between 2001 and 2012 for which Bill was paid $500,000 or more, ten were given while Hillary was Secretary of State. Many of those speeches were sponsored by groups with interests before the State Department.

Just one other broad point from Schweizer: the prominence of foreign contributors to the Foundation is striking—and the donations are often made by people not known for philanthropy in their home countries. To explain this, Schweizer—accurately— cites an article in the Indian Express written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, not some random internet commenter but a distinguished political scientist, educated at Oxford and Princeton and the president of a New Delhi think tank. Mehta asks a good question, which answers itself: “[T]he top echelons of Indian capital are becoming increasingly global, jockeying for access and influence. What else explains why CII [the Confederation of Indian Industry] was so keen to donate to the Clinton Foundation, when its discharging of its own commitments in India has been, at best, very reluctant?”

Clintonites will also likely decry the Wall Street Journal as a fair source of criticism. Nevertheless, its review in early 2015 of what it calls Hillary’s “complex corporate ties” is worth attention. It opens by pointing out, as was noted in the previous chapter, that Hillary was unusually aggressive for a Secretary of State at promoting U.S. business abroad, “pushing governments to sign deals and change policies to the advantage of corporate giants such as General Electric Co., Exxon Mobil Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Boeing Co.” All these companies gave money to the Clinton Foundation. The Journal counts at least 60 companies that lobbied the State Department during Hillary’s reign as having given collectively $26 million to the Foundation. At least 44 of the 60 participated in projects coordinated by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI).

In Hard Choices, Hillary brags about her emphasis on what she calls “economic statecraft,” a strategy she concocted with former Goldman Sachs banker Robert Hormats that involves putting the vast U.S. diplomatic corps, with offices in 270 cities around the world, to work “creat[ing] new opportunities for growth and shared prosperity.” In the book, this takes the high-minded form of breaking down protectionist barriers and promoting “an open trading system,” a core goal of U.S. foreign policy since the end of World War II. The intended beneficiaries are “American companies and workers.”

The Journal article suggests that less high-minded considerations were involved when theory was turned to practice. In 2009, at the request of Microsoft, Hillary sent Hormats to lobby the Chinese to tighten things up on software piracy. Microsoft, a longtime donor to the Foundation, subsequently launched a CGI-coordinated initiative to provide discounted or free software to teachers and students valued at $130 million. In 2011, Hillary personally lobbied Algeria to buy GE nuclear power equipment; a month after her visit, GE announced a health partnership with the Foundation providing it with between $500,000 and $1 million. (Contributions are reported in ranges, so we don’t know exactly how much.) Throughout her tenure, Hillary promoted fracking at home and abroad, a policy supported by major U.S. energy companies, many of whom are also Foundation supporters. Hillary lobbied Russia to buy Boeing planes, rather than those made by Airbus. Soon after, Boeing made its first contribution to the Clinton Foundation. She pressed India to lift restrictions that hampered the growth of Wal-Mart and other U.S.-based big box stores. Hillary, as we have seen, used to lawyer for Wal-Mart and served on its board; the company has given over $1.5 million to the Foundation. 

They had it down to a system. Hormats told the Journal that before every trip, he provided Hillary with a list of U.S. corporate interests to shill for.

 

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