RAISING CASH: Philanthropy is one way to exert influence, but far more insidious are the unlimited donations to outside political groups.
Keep this Vox piece by Ezra Klein
in mind whenever talk of the Clinton Foundation'
s donor pool arises.
It's not that we should simply shrug at the sometimes questionable intersection of philanthropy, electoral politics and international affairs represented by the foundation's fundraising efforts over the years, including when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. The finances of the Clinton Foundation are fair game for media scrutiny. But, Klein says, there is a more disturbing pattern of fundraising around Clinton by simple virtue of the fact that she's a candidate running for federal office in America:
With the Clinton Foundation, there is at least the possibility that donors wanted to give money to an actual philanthropy trying to save and improve lives in poor countries. The same can't be said for the daily money-grubbing that fuels modern political campaigns.
Take, well, Hillary Clinton. She kicked off her presidential fundraising on Tuesday with a series of events on Wall Street. Guests paid $2,700 to attend, while hosts had to bundle $27,000 in donations each. These are big, direct donations to Hillary Clinton's campaign. They are being made by people who have paid to be in a room with Hillary Clinton. They are being made with the express purpose of helping Hillary Clinton win the presidency. They are being made by people whose livelihoods are regulated by the very agencies Clinton seeks to control.
The thing that people worry was quietly happening at the Clinton Foundation, in other words, is publicly happening with the Clinton campaign.
Obviously, he continues, the same is true with just about any candidate, Democrat or Republican.
Far more toxic than direct donations (which are relatively small, due to restrictions on giving to campaigns) are the unlimited sums that vastly wealthy people can contribute to the "outside groups" that play such a crucial role in elections these days. By funneling untold millions into nominally independent Super PACs and political nonprofits like Americans for Prosperity
, billionaire donors have made themselves an essential part of the national electoral process. International money
plays a role here, too.
The same effect is filtering down to the states, which often have even less in the way of disclosure rules or enforcement mechanisms than those governing federal elections. Take Arkansas, which allows most spending by outside groups on state-level races to take place in near-complete secrecy — often, no disclosure of either donors or spending is required
, and an attempt by Rep. Clarke Tucker
(D-Little Rock) to change that fact this last session was swiftly dismantled
by the legislature.
The influence-purchasing that people are worried might have happened, in a loose and indirect way, with the Clinton Foundation, is happening in an obvious and direct way around every single one of the major presidential campaigns —and what's worse is that we're getting used to it, inured to it, tired of complaining about it. The Clinton Foundation is getting so much coverage in part because it's novel. But the much more significant, more daily corruption of American politics is, sadly, becoming routine.