On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton frequently decries the influence that monied donors have on the political process. But behind closed doors, in speeches at Goldman Sachs events, she urged members of the donor class to exert their influence––especially on recalcitrant Republicans.
Wikileaks released emails on Oct. 15 containing what it says are full transcripts of three paid speeches that Clinton gave at Goldman Sachs events. The Clinton campaign didn’t comment on the validity of these transcripts. Publicly, the campaign has asserted that the Russian government is responsible for the release of the emails––which were hacked from campaign chairman John Podesta’s Gmail account.
“There is no getting around it: Donald Trump is cheering on a Russian attempt to influence our election through a crime reminiscent of Watergate but on a more massive scale,” said campaign spokesperson Glen Caplin in a statement emailed to The Daily Beast. “We’re witnessing another effort to steal private campaign documents in order to influence an election. Only this time, instead of filing cabinets, it’s people’s emails they’re breaking into and a foreign government is behind it. Oddly, Trump continues to defend Putin and deflect blame. It’s time for Donald Trump to condemn this intrusion by the Kremlin and tell voters what did his campaign know and when did they know it.”
On Saturday, Wikileaks released transcripts from three speeches, all delivered in 2013. The first was on June 4, and the next two were on Oct. 24 and Oct. 29, right after the conclusion of the short-lived partial government shutdown. You can download and read the speeches here. In all three speeches, Clinton argued that political donors should use their influence to push politicians to be more compromising.
“New York is kind of an ATM machine for both Democrats and Republicans,” she said in the June 6 speech. “And people come up and they visit with many of you and they ask for money, and often they’re given––if they’re coming they’re going to get it. And at some point the American public––and particularly political givers––have to say: Here––and it’s not just about me. It’s not just about my personal standings. Here are things I want you to do for the country and be part of that debate about the country.”
Clinton again made that case in her speech on Oct. 24, which she delivered at an investment symposium that Goldman hosted. It was barely a week after the resolution of the government shutdown, and investors (and lots of other people, too!) were angry with how the whole situation had played out. So when the event questioner, investor management division co-head Tim O’Neill, asked Clinton how to fight D.C. gridlock, she gave him a three-point answer. This was her second point:
“[R]unning for office in our country takes a lot of money, and candidates have to go out and raise it,” she said. “New York is probably the leading site for contributions for fundraising for candidates on both sides of the aisle, and it’s also our economic center. And there are a lot of people here who should ask some tough questions before handing over campaign contributions to people who were really playing chicken with our whole economy.”
The people “playing chicken,” of course, were the conservative Republicans––including Sen. Ted Cruz––who pushed for a government shutdown in hopes that it would get President Obama to sign legislation overturning the Affordable Care Act. That obviously didn’t happen, as most people correctly predicted when the shutdown started.
In the third speech, discussing how to make the American government work better, Clinton again argued that donors have a responsibility to influence the politicians who take their money.
“And then it comes down to who we vote for and what kind of expectations we set and who we give money to,” she said. “Those who help to fund elections, I think it’s important that business leaders make it clear, why would you give money to somebody who was willing to wreck the full faith and credit of the United States.”
“I think there are steps that citizens have to take,” she added. “It’s not just about how we rearrange the levers of power and the institutions in Washington.”
Later in that speech, she made the same point.
“I like when people say, you know, I may be conservative, but I’m not crazy,” she said. “I’m very reassured.
“Prove it,” said Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman’s CEO and her questioner at the event.
“Yeah,” Clinton responded. “You want them to prove it by saying, you know, we’re going to act differently in our voting and our giving. And it could make a very big difference.”
In that same speech, Clinton suggested that more wealthy people should run for office because they’re less susceptible to donor influence. She explained her position––albeit less-than-clearly––when she took a question from an audience member identified in the transcript only as “MALE ATTENDEE.”
“My question is, as entrepreneurs, we risk a lot,” he said. “And Mike Bloomberg had 30 billion other reasons than to take office. Do we need a wholesale change in Washington that has more to do with people that don’t need the job than have the job?”
Clinton liked the question.
“That’s a really interesting question,” she said. “You know, I would like to see more successful business people run for office. I really would like to see that because I do think, you know, you don’t have to have 30 billion, but you have a certain level of freedom. And there’s that memorable phrase from a former member of the Senate: You can be maybe rented but never bought. And I think it’s important to have people with those experiences.”
The former member she referred to was John Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat who famously wheeled and dealed for the good of his state’s corporate interests and (after leaving the Senate) his lobbying clients.
That argument––that wealthy people should run for office because they’re immune to donor influence––is one that Donald Trump regularly makes on the campaign trail. The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for clarification on whether this is still Clinton’s view and whether they make a different reading of her comments here.
In the Oct. 29 speech, Clinton also suggested that the ethics rules designed to keep politicians from having conflicts of interest are too onerous.
“[P]art of the problem with the political situation, too, is that there is such a bias against people who have led successful and/or complicated lives,” she said. “You know, the divestment of assets, the stripping of all kinds of positions, the sale of stocks. It just becomes very onerous and unnecessary.”
The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment on whether she would seek to loosen ethics requirements if elected president.
None of this is necessarily controversial. But it doesn’t exactly comport with Clinton’s campaign trail messaging. On the page of her campaign site about campaign finance reform, she rips the influence donors have on elected politicians.
“There’s no question that we need to make Washington work much better than it does today. And that means, in particular, getting unaccountable money out of our politics,” reads a quote from her posted there. “That’s why I’m so passionate about this issue, and I will fight hard to end the stranglehold that the wealthy and special interests have on so much of our government.”
The campaign trail talking point that money in politics causes gridlock is, of course, a wee bit opposed to the argument she made to Goldman: that wealthy candidates and wealthy donors should be part of the solution.