Disqualifications, Not Qualifications

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Disqualifications, Not Qualifications

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The dust up over whether either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton is qualified to be president of the United States is overblown by the corporate media, which is looking for any chance it can get to censor the anti-establishment movement.  But more importantly, this dust up is framed entirely incorrectly.

Both candidates have respectable resumes; neither disputes the credentials of the other.  Thus, it’s not who is qualified based on their experience, but rather who ought to be disqualified based on their conflicts of interest.

 Does either candidate have interests that prevent him or her from properly representing the interests of the people voting in the Democratic primaries as the DNC’s nominee?  

Should Sanders’ career as an independent candidate who is more progressive than the establishment disqualify him from winning the nomination of the Democratic Party based on the votes cast by people who want a more progressive government?   Should Clinton’s interest in her super PACs, fundraising foundation, and multi-million dollar speaking fee income disqualify her from representing the nearly 80% of voters who want Citizens United overturned?  

With regard to whether Sanders should be disqualified from the nomination, I think the answer is: “Obviously, no!”  Sanders interests align very well with the Party by drawing greater voter participation, by attracting people back to the Democratic Party who once left the party to become Independent, and by getting discontented Republicans to switch their vote to Democratic.  His progressive platform earns the votes of the people who want a more progressive government in a manner that is completely aligned with the interests of these voters.  

But with regard to whether Clinton should be disqualified from the nomination, I think there is ample precedent for the answer, “Yes, her candidacy is inappropriate given her multiple conflicts of interests with the interests of the voters she seeks to represent.”   The notion of disqualification as a result of a conflict of interest is widely accepted in many contexts and should be applied by the voter and the media in considering the appropriateness of the candidates running for president.  

It is generally not appropriate for a board member who has a conflict of interest with the corporation on whose board he or she sits to vote on an issue involving that conflict.  Likewise it is generally inappropriate for an attorney who has a conflict of interest with a client to undertake the representation of that client.  And in the courtroom, a judge should not hear a case in which he has an interest conflicting with his duty to impartially apply the law. Of course, there are ways to get fully informed waivers of these conflicts of interest and this is precisely the point of disqualification being a legitimate campaign issue.  

We should be examining the conflicts of interest more rigorously and deciding for ourselves as voters whether we will agree to support a candidate whose interests are in conflict with our own in their campaign for the presidency of the United States.  

The mainstream media has largely ignored its duty to conduct this examination, but fortunately the voters are quickly learning to turn to other resources in making their own determinations. 

Let’s take a look at a number of Clinton’s most egregious conflicts of interest: 

·        The Center for Public Integrity, which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting published an article by David Levinthal on April 7, 2016 entitled, “Buying of the President 2016: How ‘Citizens United’ is helping Hillary Clinton win the White House.”  Levinthal’s article ought to be required reading for every Clinton supporter so that they are required to consciously choose to allow their democratic process to be undermined by their candidate with the most sophisticated operation going in making use of fundraising techniques that 80% of voters believe ought to be illegal.  The article describes Clinton's four super PACs and the orchestration of deceptive media campaigns sponsored by what Lincoln Chafee describes as “a galaxy” of closely coordinated outside funding.  The article also quotes Dylan Ratigan, a former MSNBC host and author of the New York Timesbestseller Greedy Bastards, as saying of Clinton’s platform to reform campaign finance: “It’d be like tobacco companies coming out and saying they wanted to fight against lung cancer.  In a way, the Koch brothers have more credibility than Clinton on election money issues — they’re at least upfront about how they want to use money to buy politics.” 

·         In an April 1 article published at CounterPunch.org, entitled, “How Hillary Clinton Bought the Loyalty of 33 State Democratic Parties,” Margot Kidder reports that many of the hundreds of super delegate commitments Clinton lined up before Sanders was barely even in the race were not based on the merits of her platform, but on the funneling of massive campaign donations from the 1% to 33 state parties.  That’s right: these super delegates that the media keeps falsely lumping in with the voters’ pledged delegates as reflective of the vote were not necessarily even earned, but appear to have been outright bought.  In the article, Kidder explains how the Clinton campaign made use of a Supreme Court ruling to funnel Clinton donors through state democratic parties in a way that avoided the $2,700.00 federal cap on individual campaign contributions and then returned the majority of the up to $1,320,000 in donations per couple made possible through this scheme back to state democratic parties in exchange for Super Delegate commitments.  Kidder concludes: “Not only did Hillary’s multi-millionaire and billionaire supporters get to bypass individual campaign donation limits to state parties by using several state parties apparatus, but the Clinton campaign got the added bonus of buying that state’s Super Delegates with the promise of contributions to that Democratic organization’s re-election fund.” 

·         On May 26, 2015, David Sirota’s article in the International Business Times, entitled, “Clinton Foundation Donors Got Weapons Deals From Hillary Clinton’s State Department,” drew attention to the enormous, un-scrutinized, and unprecedented conflict of interest created when a dynasty candidate for the presidency of the United States is a partner with her ex-president spouse in a foundation with global financial dealings. In the case reported by Sirota, these conflicts of interest were illustrated by the huge sale of $29 billion in advanced fighter jets to Saudi Arabia approved by Clinton’s State Department. Prior to the sale, Saudi Arabia had donated at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation, and Boeing, one of the defense contractors benefitting from the sale, donated another $900,000 only two months before the deal was completed.  Sirota wrote: “Under Clinton's leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation, according to an IBTimes analysis of State Department and foundation data. That figure -- derived from the three full fiscal years of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State (from October 2010 to September 2012) -- represented nearly double the value of American arms sales made to the those countries and approved by the State Department during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term.” 

·         The recent Panama Papers scandal emphasizes conflicts of interest Clinton has both as a member of the 1% and as a candidate for office running on her record supporting trade deals that benefit the 1% at the expense of the rest of the world.  Clinton not only helped push through the Panama Free Trade Agreement through Congress as Secretary of State (which Sanders vigorously opposed and warned against), but she also has important members of her inner circle working for one of the suspect Russian Banks closely associated with Vladimir Putin implicated in the scandal, and, further, the Clintons both are known to have their own offshore shell companies such as those exposed in the Panama Papers.  On April 7, 2016, The Observer published an article by John R. Schindler, entitled “Panama Papers Reveal Clinton’s Kremlin Connection, John and Tony Podesta aren’t fooling anyone.”  John Podesta was President Bill Clinton’ chief of staff.  After working for the President, John and his brother founded a lobbying firm, The Podesta Group, which this November took Sberbank (the Savings Bank of Russia) on as a client even though this bank is known “as a sort of arm” of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, is accused of “financing terrorism,” and is implicated in the Panama Papers as involved in “top-level money laundering of a brazen kind.” John is the chairman of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and his brother, Tony, the CEO of the Podesta Group is a “big-money bundler” of that campaign.  In addition, a May 27, 2015 Wall Street Journal article by James Taramto, entiled, “She Sells LLC Shells,” describes the questions and conflicts of interest surrounding Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency and WJC, LLC, a shell company of the type at issue in the Panama papers owned by her husband.  This article makes the point that these questions and conflicts are bound to make it hard for Clinton to overcome the sense that “what she says publicly doesn’t jibe with how she and her husband conduct their own business.” 

·         And of course, there are the speaking fees.  The conflicts of interest created by the speaking fees have already been highlighted at CommonDreams.org in Howard Friel’s February 22, 2016 piece, “Hillary Clinton’s Pay-to-Play Speaking Fees Disqualify Her as a Presidential Candidate.”  Friel writes: “Hillary Clinton was paid more than $21 million for making speeches to private concerns from April 2013 to March 2015, and thus a mere one month prior to her formal announcement as a candidate for president in April 2015."  While Clinton bristles at the suggestion that her platform is influenced by the $2.9 million she received in speaking fees for just twelve Wall Street speeches, Friel observes that Clinton has refused to "rule out appointing a Wall Street veteran to the top economic post in the White House," a step that could go a long way to minimizing one aspect of her many conflicts of interest. 

The mainstream media is taking this moment to scold Sanders for responding to Clinton’s demand for an apology to the families of the Sandy Hook victims and her statements questioning Sanders qualifications.  Although Clinton should bear more responsibility for her vote for the Iraq War and her more than twenty votes in support of the war’s funding, and although her policies on fracking, trade, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and even social security, among others, might make her more qualified to run as a Republican, the best answer to Clinton’s baiting of Sanders is this: “It’s ridiculous to say that either candidate is not qualified.  They both have impressive resumes. What is a more important issue is whether the conflicts of interest of either candidate ought to disqualify him or her from representing the interests most important to the American people today when Wall Street corruption, rigged campaign finance laws, and staggering inequality and economic manipulation are so against the general welfare."  

On that score, not only is Bernie Sanders profoundly qualified to represent our interests, but the other side of the coin is that Hillary Clinton’s profound conflicts of interest ought to disqualify her from representing our interests.  It is up to us, whether we waive this conflict of interest in the way we vote.  Before we vote, a vigorous review of these conflicts of interest is in order and it is proper for the Sanders campaign to call our attention to them.

Hank Edson

Hank Edson is an author, activist and attorney based in San Francisco. He is the author of The Declaration of the Democratic Worldview (Democracy Press, 2008).

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