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marmar Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu May-17-07 10:05 PM
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Hillary Inc. (The Nation)
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Edited on Sat May-19-07 01:36 PM by newyawker99
She has millionaire contributors and advisers who lobby for huge corporations: It's no wonder Hillary Clinton's populist rhetoric sometimes rings hollow

article | posted May 17, 2007 (June 4, 2007 issue)
Hillary Inc.
Ari Berman

In a packed ballroom in midtown Manhattan, Hillary Clinton is addressing hundreds of civil rights activists and labor leaders convened by the Rev. Al Sharpton for his annual National Action Network conference. The junior senator from New York starts slowly but picks up steam when she hits on the economic anxiety many in the room feel. "We're not making progress," she says, her sharp Midwestern monotone accented with a bit of Southern twang. "Wages are flat." Nods of agreement. "This economy is not working!" Applause. She's not quite the rhetorical populist her husband was on the campaign trail, but she can still feel your pain. "Everything has been skewed," Clinton says, jabbing her index finger for emphasis, "to help the privileged and the powerful at the expense of everybody else!"

It's a rousing speech, though ultimately not very convincing. If Clinton really wanted to curtail the influence of the powerful, she might start with the advisers to her own campaign, who represent some of the weightiest interests in corporate America. Her chief strategist, Mark Penn, not only polls for America's biggest companies but also runs one of the world's premier PR agencies. A bevy of current and former Hillary advisers, including her communications guru, Howard Wolfson, are linked to a prominent lobbying and PR firm--the Glover Park Group--that has cozied up to the pharmaceutical industry and Rupert Murdoch. Her fundraiser in chief, Terry McAuliffe, has the priciest Rolodex in Washington, luring high-rolling contributors to Clinton's campaign. Her husband, since leaving the presidency, has made millions giving speeches and counsel to investment banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. They house, in addition to other Wall Street firms, the Clintons' closest economic advisers, such as Bob Rubin and Roger Altman, whose DC brain trust, the Hamilton Project, is Clinton's economic team in waiting. Even the liberal in her camp, former deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, has lobbied for the telecom and healthcare industries, including a for-profit nursing home association indicted in Texas for improperly funneling money to disgraced former House majority leader Tom DeLay. "She's got a deeper bench of big money and corporate supporters than her competitors," says Eli Attie, a former speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore. Not only is Hillary more reliant on large donations and corporate money than her Democratic rivals, but advisers in her inner circle are closely affiliated with unionbusters, GOP operatives, conservative media and other Democratic Party antagonists.

It's not exactly an advertisement for the working-class hero, or a picture her campaign freely displays. Her lengthy support for the Iraq War is Clinton's biggest liability in Democratic primary circles. But her ties to corporate America say as much, if not more, about what she values and cast doubt on her ability and willingness to fight for the progressive policies she claims to champion. She is "running to help and restore the great middle class in our country," Wolfson says. So was Bill in 1992. He was for "putting people first." Then he entered the White House and pushed for NAFTA, signed welfare reform, consolidated the airwaves through the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (leading to Clear Channel's takeover) and cleared the mergers of mega-banks. Would the First Lady do any different? Ever since the defeat of healthcare reform, Hillary has been a committed incrementalist, describing herself as a creature of the "moderate, sensible center" whom business admires and rewards. During her six years in the Senate, she's rarely been out front on difficult economic issues. Given her proximity to money and power, it's not hard to figure out why she keeps controversial figures close to her--even if their work becomes a liability for her campaign.


The Compromised Candidate

It's hard to see how her advisers' corporate work doesn't reflect poorly on Clinton's progressive claims or create a liability for her with Democratic voters. There's no evidence that she has taken a position specifically to benefit one of her advisers' clients or a top supporter. More likely, the ties to corporate America, along with the bruises of past defeats, have limited what she believes is possible and will fight to achieve. "If you surround yourself by people who live off of big corporations, that's going to affect the advice they give you and your own worldview," says a former Clinton adviser.

Clinton has a consistently liberal Senate voting record, earning near-perfect scores from Americans for Democratic Action. She's fought to get New York its fair share of federal money after 9/11 and has advocated for long-neglected, though politically safe, issues like children's health and veterans care. Yet voting records capture only so much. Since the healthcare reform disaster of 1993-94, she has rarely stuck her neck out on contentious issues. "She votes the issues that come up, rather than take the leadership role," says Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. "We tried to do too much, too fast twelve years ago," Clinton told the Federation of American Hospitals last year, "and I still have the scars to show for it." She's now the number-one Congressional recipient of donations from the healthcare industry.

Clinton's rarely been the threat to the business community that many on the right typically allege. She's often partnered with Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Bill Frist. In 2002 she backed a harsh position on welfare reform reauthorization that put her at odds even with conservative Republicans like Orrin Hatch. She persuaded her husband to veto the bankruptcy bill in 1997, voted for a similar version in 2001 and missed the vote in 2005, when Bill was in the hospital. She advocated weakening the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, telling Feingold to "live in the real world." Unlike Edwards and Obama, she accepts campaign contributions from lobbyists and corporate PACs. "Ask them why they don't take money from lobbyists," Wolfson retorts. "We're proud of our support."

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