Hillary Clinton is finally dropping serious hints about running for president, at a time when her favorability ratings are so high, The New York Times’ Nate Cohn writes, “If a candidate has ever been inevitable (for a nomination) it is Mrs. Clinton today.”
Her Iowa poll numbers are a smashing 61 percent among likely Democratic voters, and just a point less nationally. It’s the same story in other early test states. And Super PACS for her are amassing a formidable war chest.
That’s an enviable place for a Democrat to be, but it puts the party’s voters and the general public at risk of writing off the nomination as settled. That would be a mistake. Primary campaigns shouldn’t be love fests or coronations, but chances for voters to define their own priorities, and for the candidates to answer tough questions.
And Clinton has some tough questions to answer. The latest set, of course, comes from her use of a private email account to conduct State Department business when she was secretary of state. But some of us are increasingly concerned about her relationships with corporations and other donors to her family’s Clinton Foundation, and if they would influence her policies as president.
The Washington Post reported the charitable foundation, founded by Bill Clinton after he left the presidency, has raised nearly $2 billion, including contributions from corporate giants and foreign governments – $262 million of that since Clinton left the Obama administration. A sizable share of those donations of $10,000 or more come from people who also donated to the Ready for Hillary PAC and to her 2008 campaign.
That may not be illegal – very little seems to be anymore when it comes to money in politics – but it raises the prospect that donations earmarked for charity are really intended to buy influence. What might corporate donors, dominated by the financial services sector, get in return? Probably not stricter financial regulations. Even foreign governments like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Argentina, which can’t legally spend to influence U.S. elections, have given the foundation over $1 million apiece.
Some previous Clinton backers are raising those questions. Marianne Williamson, a familiar name to many devotees of spiritual and inspirational literature, is a California-based author and speaker on the progressive end of the Democratic Party. She ran for a congressional seat from California last year. In late March she’s sponsoring a conference on grass-roots Democratic priorities featuring Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as keynoter.
In an open letter to Clinton last year, published in The Huffington Post, Williamson wrote, “I want a woman president – really, I do. A lot of us do. And yes, you’re so qualified, and yes, we’ve known you forever, and yes, you’d know what to do from Day 1.” But she continued, “We only want to vote for you if you run like hell away from that corporate box you’ve landed in. … We know now that Wall Street runs the country, and we don’t like it. And for many of us, we don’t want to vote for you if Wall Street runs you, too.”
In a phone interview Thursday, Williamson said she admires Clinton, but wants to see her priorities challenged from the left. Noting her acceptance of $400,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, Williamson cautions, “they'll want a return.” Citing Clinton’s ties to the biotechnology industry, she wonders if GMO giant Monsanto would “be given the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The State Department under Clinton lobbied foreign governments to use GMO seeds. It also lobbied governments to adopt policies benefiting GE, ExxonMobil, Boeing and Microsoft, all foundation donors. Clinton advocated raising subsidies and tax breaks to biotech companies. And in her last campaign, she picked as her chief campaign strategist a CEO for a public relations firm representing Monsanto.
Two progressive Democrats whose names are being promoted for presidential consideration – Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren – promote greater regulation of Wall Street. Warren introduced legislation to force corporations that move overseas in order to avoid paying taxes to relinquish control to foreign entities. She helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to guard against abusive lending practices. Sanders has called for an end to tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas, an end to free-trade agreements, and the breakup of banking monopolies. Will Clinton join them?
For now, she’s making her appeals to professional women. Speaking to Silicon Valley IT employees last week in the first of three speeches to female audiences, she mentioned the wage gap, glass ceilings and locker-room mentalities. Next she'll speak to EMILY’s List, which raises money to for pro-choice women candidates.
It’s smart strategy. Women tend to embrace Clinton with a rare loyalty and enthusiasm. We’ve watched her work a punishing schedule, withstand sexism, betrayal and a disappointing campaign outcome. We’ve seen an accomplished woman take her punches and come back stronger. And many celebrate a grandma who still has the fight in her.
But these times demand a serious commitment to improving the lives of the disenfranchised she has long championed. That means shifting the balance of power back from money to people. The question really isn’t if we’re ready for Hillary, but if Hillary is ready for that.
Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send her email at email@example.com.