Clinton Cash: Selling influence to anyone, anytime

Hillary Clinton is anti-Citizens United, but any defense of the tangled web between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department must embrace Justice Kennedy's opinion and reject Stevens' dissent.

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WASHINGTON, August 27, 2016 — Hillary Clinton pledged in July to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The defense mounted by the Clinton campaign and Clinton’s supporters of Secretary of State Clinton’s and the Clinton Foundation’s dealings with foreign foundation donors is, however, a full embrace of Citizens United.

More than that, it is an embrace of campaign finance in a world where there is no such thing as quid pro quo, where people may be corrupt, but money is pure, and where no dollar ever comes with expectations of any special regard.

The Clinton Foundation: Doing good the sleazy way?

Citizens United v. FEC is one of the Supreme Court decisions most reviled by Democrats and the left. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a furious dissent, observing:

On numerous occasions we have recognized Congress’ legitimate interest in preventing the money that is spent on elections from exerting an “ ‘undue influence on an officeholder’s judgment’ ” and from creating “ ‘the appearance of such influence,’ ” beyond the sphere of quid pro quo relationships. Corruption can take many forms. Bribery may be the paradigm case. But the difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind. And selling access is not qualitatively different from giving special preference to those who spent money on one’s behalf. Corruption operates along a spectrum, and the majority’s apparent belief that quid pro quo arrangements can be neatly demarcated from other improper influences does not accord with the theory or reality of politics.

Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor concurred, as did Hillary Clinton, President Obama and the DNC.

According to a Clinton spokesman, Clinton’s proposed amendment would “allow Americans to establish common sense rules to protect against the undue influence of billionaires and special interests and to restore the role of average voters in elections.”

It would prevent people like Clinton from taking money from entities like the Crown Prince of Bahrain, the government of Saudi Arabia and the government of Kuwait.

It would do that not because those entities would expect a quid pro quo, which in any event could almost never be proven, but because “the difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree.” It would do that because “the majority’s apparent belief that quid pro quo arrangements can be neatly demarcated from other improper influences does not accord with the theory or reality of politics.”

Criticism of Clinton for maintaining ties with the Clinton Foundation while she was secretary of state and while the Foundation accepted money from Russian oligarchs and Middle Eastern states does not rest on the assumption that there was a quid pro quo, which in any case could never be proven. But when Sen. John McCain argued for campaign finance reform in 1999, Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah, stung by the implication that getting pork-barrel spending for his state was corrupt, said, “I am unaware of any money given that influenced my action here … I have been accused of being corrupt. … I take personal offense.”

Those opposed to campaign finance reform have in essence argued that the money is pure. No one can show that their votes were changed by the money, and in fact, they may have voted as they did anyway on the merits.

But the money is never pure, and it does create deep and mucky ethical swamps.

Secretary Clinton did not see every Clinton Foundation donor who requested an audience. She did not reject everyone who had failed to donate. But over half the non-government meetings she granted were to Foundation donors, and the State Department has refused to release her schedule of visits until after the election, which would allow investigators to determine how many other meetings were with donors and non-donors.

It is worth noting that Clinton’s proposed amendment would do nothing to stop the type of relationship that existed between her and the Foundation. The Foundation operates outside normal parameters of charitable foundations (which can conceal donor identities, as the Clinton Foundation has done) and campaign finance. Yet it is impossible to deny with a straight face and an unfractured mind that the Foundation was an access point to a high government official.

The government of Saudi Arabia got State Department support for a major arms deal after large donations to the Clinton Foundation – though it must be noted that those donations did not occur while Clinton was secretary of state, but before and after. According to State Department email, Foundation officials set up a meeting between Clinton and the military leader of Bahrain, a large donor to the Foundation, after which the State Department increased arms export authorizations to Bahrain.

At the same time, the Bahraini military was crushing pro-democracy protests.

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Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin said in response, “The fact remains that Hillary Clinton never took action as secretary of state because of donations to the Clinton Foundation.”

Hillary Clinton and her supporters enthusiastically agree. Her supporters may believe that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain donated money to the Foundation to support its good work. For instance: “We’re working toward a world where more girls and women can achieve full participation in all aspects of life. … supporting women farmers and entrepreneurs, promoting economic opportunity and job creation, and improving health outcomes.”

Or they may believe that those government paid for access, but they didn’t get it. They got their warplanes on the merits.

But they clearly believe this: “We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Justice Kennedy must be feeling pleased and vindicated.

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