Hillary Clinton: More money, more problems?

The Washington Post suggests that as Clintons Foundation has raised close to $2 billion it meas also questions for Hillary’s potential presidential bid. Questions about foreign donors, questions about her closeness to Wall Street. Could those questions be important for her campaign or maybe not so much, and why? Read few comments.

James Boys, Associate Professor of International Political Studies,Richmond University (London), Visiting Senior Research Fellow, King’s College London

It is clear that money is going to be a major issue for Hillary Clinton in her bid to become the next President of the United States. Most candidates struggle to get enough. Hillary’s problem is the suggestion that she has too much. It’s ironic as the Clinton’s were certainly not a wealthy family before Bill became president and were, literally from the wrong side of the tracks in one of the poorest states in the union. That has totally changed of course and now they are very wealthy. So much so that many on the left of the Democratic Party fear that Hillary is out of touch with normal Americans and will fail to be able to connect with them on the campaign trail. This is not the first time that the Clinton Foundation and the business affairs associated with her husband have raised problems for Hillary. It was an issue when she became Secretary of State, for example, and once more we find that what was true once, is true again: Bill Clinton is both Hillary’s greatest asset and her greatest liability.

John Owens, Emeritus  Professor of United States Government and Politics, Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster 

These finding are not really surprising. As the lead Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2016, I would expect the Clinton camp to make overtures to Wall Street, especially investment banking institutions that have historically contributed extensively to the Democrats. Running for the White House is very extensive. Current forecasts suggest the election will cost over $5 billion, and that Hillary will spend up to $2 billion. These kind of sums are not spare change. Any successful candidate needs to cultivate rich donors. Much more controversial in elections is the role of foreign donors, who are prohibited under federal law. If contributions to the Clinton Foundation from foreign donors make their way into Hillary’s presidential election campaign she will have some serious questions to answer, most notably by another Democratic contender, Elizabeth Warren, if she decides to run.

The Murdoch conservative Wall Street Journal, no friend of the Clintons, has reported that the Clinton Foundation has received millions from foreign governments, including Qatar, which backs Hamas, the UAE, and Saudi. This is much more serious and of course will conflict with Clinton’s backing of Israel and Jewish support for Democratic candidates. The fact that the Foundation supports the Clintons’ lavish travel arrangements compounds the problem.

Thomas Scotto, Professor, Department of Government, University of Essex

Hillary Clinton is seen, at best by the Democratic base, as a Centre-Left candidate. If she is challenged in the primaries by the likes of Elizabeth Warren or a comparable left wing candidate, Ms. Clinton could be open to substantial criticism. The Democratic base, particularly those outside of major urban areas fundamentally mistrusts Wall Street.

Marty Linsky, Adjunct Lecturer, Harvard University, Co-founder, Cambridge Leadership Associates

We are in the midst of defining the 2015-6 version of Hillary Clinton. The Wall Street connections and the foreign donors to the Foundation contribute to an image of her as an elite, out-of-touch person who lives in a different reality than most Americans. It is good for her that these issues are out there early. It is not so good that they are being raised by respected credible news organizations and not her political opponents. Undoubtedly, she and her allies have numerous counter-strategies in their arsenal.

Philip Davies, Professor, Eccles Centre for American Studies, The British Library, President, European Association for American Studies

US political, philanthropy and much of life there is highly money oriented.  The Clintons are unusual in that they are very successful at fundraising, very engaged in high level politics and very involved in international philanthropy.  But even given their extraordinary high profile across the board, they aren’t unique.  The Koch brothers are very engaged in political and philanthropic ventures.  Their money is behind much of the Republican electoral gains of recent years, and especially influential in pushing the Tea Party line within the GOP – but they themselves are not currently running for office, and probably won’t take that route.  The Bush family have occupied many offices, may well stand for others, and certainly have a fundraising network, and I have no doubt that they have philanthropic involvements – but not as obviously as the Clintons.  So, yes, the Clintons may be a ‘special case’ but they are not very distant from the norm in high echelon political culture in the USA.

I notice that the article points out that the Clinton foundation is more open and transparent about its finances than is actually required by law.  That seem pretty good in a polity where recent Supreme Court decisions have made it easier to obscure and hide financial contributions that may have political impact.  As long as candidates do not formally declare their candidacy they can take advantage of US financial regulations that allow them to be involved in the operation of organisations collecting and spending funds on issues of public interest.  Candidates other than Clinton are likely to already be well involved in such ‘non-election’ campaigning – which will be designed nevertheless to give them opportunities to address audiences relevant to the subsequent campaign, to establish credibility in policy areas relevant to their subsequent campaign, to gain intelligence that will be useful in their later campaign, and, possibly, to exercise the skills of colleagues and supporters who may well move later to post in the official campaign.  It is a complex business – money and US campaigns – and all the candidate organisations will spend a great deal of time and effort maximising their efficient use of the system.

Will the overlaps prove more of a problem to Clinton than to the others?  Well, in so far as the Clinton operations are very visible, perhaps…  But it would be hard for Republican opponents to make much noise about, since they will be doing much the same thing.  Democrats may be more upset – feeling that they want a more liberal/progressive candidate with fewer ties to big money….  But they are also a practical lot – they want their candidate to win.  That could be difficult enough anyway (the Republicans are really skilled at winning elections – as is shown already at state level and in Congress & might well become more evident at the presidential level) – and a revolt from the political left of the democratic party could destabilise the opportunity offered by 2016 for the party to retain the presidency.

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