In case you hadn't noticed, there's a crap ton of money in politics. Shocking, I know, especially to Republicans who appear to be ironically making Hillary and Bill Clinton's wealth an issue for the 2016 election.
Specifically, Hillary Clinton reported earning more than $25 million in speaking fees during 2014 and early 2015. Her speaking engagements included some big ticket fees, such as $300,000 for several engagements including eBay, Cisco and various universities. This is definitely above average as speaking engagements go, but considering how Clinton is widely regarded in polls as the most admired woman in the world, as well as the all-but-presumptive next U.S. president, it kind of makes sense.
According to David Sirota writing for The International Business Times, generally a right-wing outfit, Clinton's disclosures get admittedly a little hinky with regards to payments of $2.2 million to Clinton for speaking fees paid to her by "organizations" that lobbied the State Department while Clinton was in charge. But there's no evidence showing that Salesforce.com Inc. and the Biotechnology Industry Organization received any government contracts while she was Secretary of State.
Bill Clinton, meanwhile, was paid $2.5 million in speaking fees from around a dozen companies that were apparently awarded contracts by the Clinton State Department. Politifact looked into the now infamously mendacious Clinton Cash book by Peter Schweizer and learned:
State Department ethics officials had to sign off on [Bill Clinton's] speaking engagements, but rarely did they say Clinton could not accept payment for a particular speech.
Either way, again, breaking news! There's a lot of palm-greasing in politics. Stop the presses or something.
First of all, here we are again, singling out the Clintons as if they alone are outliers -- as if all other politicians are totally on-the-level when in comes to speaking fees, political donations, 501(c)3 groups, dark money donations and so on. It was the same story when the homebrew email scandal popped up for about three minutes before everyone stopped paying attention. The Clintons, we were led to infer, are the only creepazoid politicians who have their own email server, right? Nope. It turns out numerous other presidential contenders maintained their own servers, not to mention previous secretaries of state. In this case, we're supposed to believe that the Clintons are the lone gunmen, firing away at the last tattered vestiges of honesty in politics.
Should Hillary Clinton's finances be scrutinized? Absolutely. And if there's something untoward, it ought to be reported. But it should be reported within the broader context of money in politics. Have any of the Republicans who are rending their garments over the Clintons' speaking fees taken a hard look at their own people?
Jeb Bush's speaking fee range: $49,250 – $65,000.
Carly Fiorina's speaking fee range: $59,250 – $100,500.
Dr. Ben Carson's speaking fee range: $29,250 – $50,750.
Mike Huckabee's speaking fee range: $39,250 – $50,000.
Who paid these candidates and when? What sort of influence was peddled? Are there any tit-for-tat deals? How many contracts were awarded? Maybe if the same level of scrutiny were applied to other candidates as is applied to Hillary Clinton, perhaps we might know.
One of the frequently overheard screechings from the GOP has to do with foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation. Fine, so where's the concurrent outrage over the following (via Bloomberg)?
Documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Nov. 27 list [Jeb] Bush as chairman and manager of a new offshore private equity fund, BH Global Aviation, which raised $61 million in September, largely from foreign investors. In November the fund incorporated in the United Kingdom and Wales--a structure, several independent finance lawyers say, that operates like a tax haven by allowing overseas investors to avoid U.S. taxes and regulations.
BH Global Aviation is one of at least three such funds Bush has launched in less than two years through his Coral Gables, Fla., company, Britton Hill Holdings. He's also chairman of a $26 million fund, BH Logistics, established in April with backing from a Chinese conglomerate, and a $40 million fund involved in shale oil exploration, according to documents filed in June and first reported on by Bloomberg News.
On a different, though still applicable level, where are the accusations of corruption when it comes to an entire Republican field of candidates who are running solely to acquire lucrative Fox News contracts, book deals and speaking fees? A vast majority of candidates for the GOP presidential nomination are coercing voters to donate their hard-earned money by insisting they have serious intentions to win and to implement policies that will fix America. But in reality, it's a grift. These candidates have no real ambitions to win, in spite of what they're saying to their donors.
There's an upside.
With Hillary Clinton's financial disclosures in the news, it appears as if the Republicans might actually be outraged enough by the corrupting influence of money in politics -- maybe enough to help the rest of us get the money out of politics, once and for all.
While the GOP shakes its fist at the Clintons, untold billions in undisclosed cash is flowing into campaign war-chests, super-PACs, 501(c)3 nonprofits and dark money groups -- to the benefit of politicians on both sides of the aisle. There's indeed a monumentally serious problem here that isn't exclusive to the Clintons or even the Bushes. This is a cancer that's destroying the entirety of American politics, and it's all thanks to the GOP and the Citizens United decision, foisted upon us by conservative activists and five conservative Supreme Court justices.
So, here's a proposal for any Republicans reading this. I'll join your outrage over Hillary Clinton's finances if you acknowledge that we need to get the money out of politics and ratify a campaign finance and lobbying amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I mean, the Republicans seem a little bent out of shape over whether Clinton will offer special deals to groups that paid her and her husband millions of dollars, so why not an amendment to prevent this exact thing from happening again, not to mention plugging the geyser of cash that's -- right at this very minute -- buying all kinds of influence over every candidate running for office at every level?
Naturally, I'm wasting my time.
It turns out, the only reason why the GOP is pitching a fit over the Clintons' wealth is quite possibly to drive a wedge between Clinton and her left flank.
The New York Timesreported on Saturday that a conservative PAC called "America Rising," along with Karl Rove's "American Crossroads," have been attempting to influence far-left voters to turn against Hillary Clinton by seeding social media with items about Clinton's finances and her ties to Wall Street -- items that are being picked up by liberals and virally circulated.
For months now, America Rising has sent out a steady stream of posts on social media attacking Mrs. Clinton, some of them specifically designed to be spotted, and shared, by liberals. The posts highlight critiques of her connections to Wall Street and the Clinton Foundation and feature images of Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, interspersed with cartoon characters and pictures of Kevin Spacey, who plays the villain in “House of Cards.” And as they are read and shared, an anti-Clinton narrative is reinforced.
America Rising is not the only conservative group attacking Mrs. Clinton from the left. Another is American Crossroads, the group started by Karl Rove, which has been sending out its own digital content, including one ad using a speech Ms. Warren gave at the New Populism Conference in Washington last May. [...]
The new-style digital campaign captures some basic facts about 21st-century communication: Information travels at warp speed on social media, it is sometimes difficult to know where that information comes from, and most people like to read things with which they agree. The result, said Ken Goldstein, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco who specializes in political advertising, is something more sophisticated.
It goes without saying that liberal voters won't be lured into voting for Republicans, but this tactic appears to be effectively turning skeptical liberals against Clinton at a time when she's actively courting the left. (It's also a huge warning to liberal Twitter and Facebook users to -- for heaven's sake -- read posts carefully and critically before sharing.)
So, at the end of the day, this entire Clinton flap could have everything to do with GOP concern-trolling as a means of driving more liberal voters to candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), weakening the would-be nominee. It definitely offers one solid explanation for why such a big deal is being made out of the Clintons' financial lives, while other candidates are all but ignored.
Yes, this whole thing might be a big GOP ratf*cking scheme. And the left might have helped it along. And it's not even June yet.