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Issue #1728      April 27, 2016

Culture & Life

Buying the Clinton presidency

When Bill Clinton originally ran for the US presidency, his wife Hillary made some progressive speeches on his behalf, attacking his “rightwing” opponents. But speaking and doing are two different things, a fact that was made very clear when she later became Secretary of State, responsible for implementing the USA’s extremely aggressive foreign policy. When the US followed up NATO’s bombing of Libya by organising terrorist groups to attack the Libyan government’s forces, murdering President Muammar Gaddafi and sinking the country into its present state of constant civil warfare, Hillary Clinton was content to cynically quip “We came, we saw, he died”.

Judy Woodruff, of the PBS Newshour program, said that nearly half of Clinton’s financial sector donations come from the [ultra right-wing] financiers George Soros and Donald Sussman.

Now she is seeking the Democratic Party nomination for President of the US, putting herself forward as the progressive choice (as opposed to the ultra-reactionaries of the Republican Party). Unfortunately, her campaign has been badly shaken by another Democrat. Bernie Sanders is a social democrat and in the context of mainstream US politics he is perceived as being far to the left of Hillary Clinton. It is largely an illusion, but his campaign has struck a chord with ordinary Americans. A succession of Sanders victories over Clinton in primary ballots has all but derailed her campaign.

Any candidate who seriously hopes to win nomination for the US presidency needs to be supported by someone with very deep pockets. Under US law, political campaigns are prohibited from taking money directly from corporations – but as Nicole Colson wrote in Socialist Worker “there are plenty of loopholes for companies to grease the wheels of the political machine”. Candidates like Clinton who want to pretend to be independent of big business and tough on corporate greed can claim to stand above the fray because individuals and corporations from certain industries don’t give money directly to them. Instead, the lobbyists that represent those industries bundle money from wealthy donors and donate it to “super PACs” [Political Action Committees].

“Technically known as ‘independent expenditure-only committees’, super PACs can’t donate to individual candidates. But they can raise unlimited sums – often tens of millions of dollars – from corporations, industry associations and individuals, and that money is used to advocate for or against candidates, allegedly independent of the official campaigns.”

Ms Colson identifies as super PACs “those innocuously named groups that pay for the attack ads” that run non-stop on TV during US elections. Hilary Clinton’s campaign is supported by a super PAC named Priorities USA Action. The New York Times pointed out last year that Clinton was “personally courting” donors for Priorities USA Action. According to the paper, this was “the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has fully embraced these independent groups that can accept unlimited cheques from big donors and are already playing a major role in the 2016 race.”

Judy Woodruff, of the PBS Newshour program, said that nearly half of Clinton’s financial sector donations come from the [ultra right-wing] financiers George Soros and Donald Sussman. Sussman is the founder and chairman of the hedge fund Paloma Partners, which has invested in major energy companies. According to OpenSecrets.org, Sussman gave US$1.5 million to Priorities USA Action.

Earlier this year Greenpeace asked presidential candidates to sign what it calls the “Pledge to Fix Democracy.” Among other things, the pledge includes defending the right to vote, supporting public funding for elections and refusing money from fossil-fuel industry PACs and corporations, as well as energy company lobbyists, board members and executives. “Bernie Sanders and the Green Party’s Jill Stein are the only two candidates currently in the race who have signed the pledge” says Nicole Colson.

Overall, Democrats have received just 2.3 percent of all oil and gas contributions in this election cycle, according to The Washington Post. The bulk of contributions from this sector have of course gone to the Republicans, who in Nicole Colson’s words are “so anti-science and pro-business that they barely admit that climate change is happening, let alone that the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of it.

“On the surface, Clinton’s campaign doesn’t appear to have directly received that much money from the fossil fuel industry. According to the Centre for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org website, as of March 21, the Clinton campaign had received US$308,000 from individuals connected to the oil and gas industry. That’s a lot of money, but not when it’s compared to the tens of millions her campaign has taken in overall.

“But of course, the money directly donated by individuals connected to the fossil fuel industry only tells part of the story.

“Greenpeace nailed down the slippery semantics around donations from PACs, corporations, lobbyists and top executives:

“Fifty-eight lobbyists that work for the coal, oil and gas companies have given US$138,400 directly to the Clinton campaign. ... Eleven oil and gas industry lobbyists also bundled US$1,327,210 for Clinton’s campaign as of the end of 2015. Bundling is a practice in which lobbyists use their personal and professional networks to collect additional donations for campaigns.

“Add it all up, says Greenpeace, and the Clinton campaign has received some US$4.5 million from lobbyists, bundlers and big donors connected the fossil fuel industry. That includes $3.25 million given to Priorities USA Action.

“When people walk into a room with US$3.25 million, in a political system where you have to raise this kind of money to win,” said Greenpeace researcher Jesse Coleman, “you’re going to have to make concessions.”

“Charlie Cray, a research specialist for Greenpeace, expanded on the point, in an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman: ‘Clinton has actually taken some very good positions on climate, and she has ... pledged to regulate the fracking industry ... [But] she’s basically taking money from the lobbyists for those very companies who would oppose the policies that she has pledged to carry out.’”

Nicole Colson reminds us of something that was said by Woodrow Wilson, who was president of the USA during the First World War: “Suppose you go to Washington and try to get at your government. You will always find that while you are politely listened to, the men really consulted are the men who have the big stake – the big bankers, the big manufacturers and the big masters of commerce ... The masters of the government of the United States are the combined capitalists and manufacturers of the United States.”

As Colson remarks, Wilson’s comment “remains as true today as when he said it 100 years ago.”

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