If one listens to the remarks of Hillary Clinton, her campaign staff, and any spokesperson from the network of super PACs helping her challenge Bernie Sanders, it becomes clear they believe Clinton is a rare and special breed of politician. They think she is someone who cannot, has never been, and will never be corrupted by large sums of money given to her by corporate and special interests.
In particular, it does not matter to them if Clinton’s super PACs have accepted millions of dollars from lobbyists with ties to the fossil fuel industry. It does not matter if executives of oil and gas companies have supported the Clinton campaign by donating the maximum legal amount. To them, Clinton is an altruistic public servant, a kind of role model in American politics.
There must be no reason to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The Democratic Party can simply educate up-and-coming leaders on how to be like Clinton, and the stark influence of money in politics will be reversed by the next generation of Progressives Who Can Get Things Done.
Of course, all of the above is ludicrous. Donations were made because lobbyists and executives think Clinton will win the general election, and they want to have a stake in whatever agenda she sets if she becomes president.
Eva Resnick-Day, a Greenpeace activist, is one of many activists who recognizes this is how money influences politics in the United States. She asked Clinton if she would reject fossil fuel money in the future. Clinton blew up and accused Resnick-Day of spreading the lies of the Sanders campaign.
As she described on Greenpeace’s website after video of her exchange with Clinton went viral, “Greenpeace USA, along with 20 other organizations, launched the pledge to #FixDemocracy, asking all presidential candidates to reject future fossil fuel contributions, champion campaign finance reform, and defend the right to vote for all.”
The pledge was immediately signed by Sanders. The Clinton campaign responded to the pledge but did not sign it. (None of the Republican candidates take a position that climate change is real so, of course, neither Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, nor John Kasich have signed the pledge.)
Hillary Clinton is personally aware that Greenpeace, 350 Action, and other groups have showed up to debates, rallies, fundraisers, and events, which she has attended. She knows they’ve tried to pressure her into signing the pledge. Environmental activists also have asked her questions before, but this time—perhaps because Sanders won five of the last six states in landslide victories—Clinton thought the Sanders campaign had dispatched her to mount an attack.
Quite a lot of the focus on this exchange has been on the fact that corporations cannot donate directly to her campaign so Clinton cannot take money from the fossil fuel industry. Yet, nobody has suggested that corporations are donating directly to Clinton’s campaign.
Greenpeace asserts, “Fifty-eight lobbyists that work for the coal, oil, and gas companies have given $138,400 directly to the Clinton campaign. Forty-seven of those lobbyists gave the maximum allowable amount — $2,700. Eleven oil and gas industry lobbyists also bundled $1,327,210 for Clinton’s campaign as of the end of 2015. Bundling is a practice in which lobbyists use their personal and professional networks to collect additional donations for campaigns.” (The advocacy group put together a list of in-house oil and gas industry lobbyists and lobbyists hired by the oil and gas industry, who have donated to the Clinton campaign.)
The main super PAC supporting Clinton, Priorities USA Action, has received $3.25 million from fossil fuel interests.
But the establishment news media, in their fact checking, informed readers the money is a tiny percentage—0.15 percent of Clinton’s campaign and outside PAC money is from the oil and gas industry.
In other words, $4.5 million from fossil fuel industry interests pales in comparison to the tens of millions of dollars she has raised from individuals with ties to financial institutions, including firms on Wall Street.
The establishment news media contends Clinton has no control over donations to super PACs because it is against the law to coordinate with super PACs, like Priorities USA Action. However, one of the super PACs in her network of dark money allies is Correct the Record. It has stretched the legal boundaries of what coordination is allowed between a candidate’s campaign and a super PAC. Paul Ryan, a lawyer at the Campaign Legal Center, has argued the super PAC is “creating new ways to undermine campaign regulation.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defended Clinton. “This attack is not becoming of him, is not becoming of that movement to bring about more progressive change. And I think we should just get back to the issues.” (Note: Clinton said “back to the issues” after a Black Lives Matter activist confronted her over her super-predator remarks in the 1990s.)
De Blasio added, “Any suggestion that she’s in anyone’s pocket on the issue of climate change or on any other issue is flat-out false and just inappropriate.”
Yet, the issue is not that she fails to recognize the severity of the threat of climate change. The issue is that she may lack the political independence necessary to take radical action necessary to significantly diminish the impact of a future global catastrophe.
In 2015, Mother Jones reporters Paul Blumenthal and Kate Sheppard documented the fossil fuel lobbyists raising money for her campaign. Lobbyists, who helped Chevron “resist efforts to eliminate oil and gas tax breaks” and “regulations to reduce carbon emissions,” bundled funds. An executive at a top liquefied national gas exporter, Cheniere Energy, which lobbied Washington hard and won approval to export gas to countries not part of U.S. free trade agreements, bundled funds. A well-known energy lobbyist, who ExxonMobil retained to “increase the company’s reach into the Democratic Party,” bundled funds for Clinton.
While Clinton was a senator, according to the League of Conservation Voters, she voted for an “end to protections for Florida’s Gulf Coast” in 2006. The legislation opened up “8 million acres off the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana for oil and gas drilling.” She also voted against a ban against a controversial oil and leasing program off the east coast of the Gulf of Mexico, which President George W. Bush’s administration proposed in 2001 to allow offshore drilling.
The Sanders campaign has their own list of facts, which suggest how Clinton may have been influenced by fossil fuel interests in the past. When she was secretary of state, Clinton approved the Alberta Clipper, a tar sands pipeline. The State Department also signed the U.S.—Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbons Argeeement, a deal which helped make drilling offshore in the Gulf of Mexico easier for energy companies.
Clinton said she opposes TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project because it is a “distraction” from the work that has to be done on climate change. But Mother Jones reported in 2015:
Bundler Gordon Giffin is a former lobbyist for TransCanada, the company working to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Giffin sits on the board of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, an investor in the pipeline. The Canadian bank paid Clinton $990,000 for speeches in the months leading up to her presidential announcement. Another Canadian financial institution with an interest in Keystone XL, TD Bank, paid her $651,000 for speaking engagements.
Just as voters are not supposed to fret over the speeches she gave to major banks like Goldman Sachs for hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Clinton campaign does not think voters should be concerned about these transactions. Like Senator Barbara Boxer said of her speaking fees from Wall Street banks, “She didn’t do anything that other presidents and other secretaries of state don’t do.”
Clinton insists, “You will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received. And I have stood up and I have represented my constituents to the best of my abilities, and I’m very proud of that.”
Similar to her 2008 presidential campaign, Clinton remains convinced there is no such thing as dirty money. It’s as if when the money ends up in the war chests of the Clinton campaign and their network of super PACs the money suddenly becomes funds, which will unquestionably be used for good. But that is not how money in politics works.
Clinton does not depend upon small donations from individuals for her election campaign. She depends upon the donations of corporate executives, elite culture producers in the entertainment industry, and upper class Americans. Many of her donors are part of the ruling class and have deep investments in the status quo.
There is no evidence that Clinton is so virtuous that she can take millions from these people and then turn around and advance social justice policies against their interests. That is why democracy pledges like the one Greenpeace wants presidential candidates to sign are important. Such pledges force candidates to go on the record and break away from the system in order to demonstrate they will not depend on corporate and special interests to get elected president and will not owe any executives anything upon taking office.