Why It’s Unfair To Judge Hillary Clinton For Accepting Big Money Donations

bernie sanders hillary clinton george clooney collage picture

Much is being made of a private fundraising dinner for Hillary Clinton being promoted by George and Amal Clooney. The actor and his wife, a renowned human rights lawyer who represented Julian Assange over the Wikileaks scandal, have been drawing some harsh criticisms from fans who feel that the couple’s charitable work and human rights activism is being diminished by supporting a candidate for President who has a very chequered record. Organized by venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar, an Iranian-born billionaire whose business partner worked with Goldman Sachs for years, the fundraising dinner promises people a direct meeting with Clinton herself, all for the low price of $353,000 per person. The money raised at the April 15 event will be donated to Hillary Victory Fund SuperPAC, which, as the name suggests, is working to secure the Democratic nomination for President for Clinton, similar to Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

While that specific event is getting most of the attention, there is a separate dinner one can attend, only this time the price is discounted to just over $33k. You know, for those on a budget. When? The very next night, April 16.

These types of events stand in stark contrast to the fundraising efforts of Clinton’s opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is trailing Clinton by just over 200 pledged delegates heading into April. It’s a daunting but technically surmountable deficit for the populist prophet. In January and February — and likely March — the Bernie campaign outraised Clinton by significant margins, making a fundraising dash necessary for her to stay competitive heading into the last three months of the primary season. How has Bernie been out raising his opponent? By accepting small-dollar contributions from his supporters, totalling over 5 million individual contributions from over 2 million individuals. That’s not the case for Clinton, who has been criticized by Sanders and his supporters for depending on fewer, but more wealthy, donors.

Over the course of the nominating process, Hillary Clinton has outraised Bernie Sanders $223 million to $140 million, with $62.6 million of Clinton’s total being funneled through super PACs. Bernie, meanwhile, has denounced all super PACs. Bernie doesn’t want super PAC money, and Clinton is willingly accepting it. This has resulted in the following differences, with all information coming via OpenSecrets.com, unless otherwise noted:

  • Hillary Clinton has had been the recipient of at least 20 donations totaling $1 million or more (via New York Times). Bernie has received exactly zero donations at that amount, and those totals haven’t been updated since February, so expect that gap to widen — especially since the limit on individual contributions to a federal campaign max out at $2,700 to a candidate’s campaign, which means Bernie won’t ever see a million dollar donation unless his stance changes on super PACs.
  • Clinton has raised 73% of her money through large donations ($200 or more), while Bernie has only raised 31% of his funds from such donations.
  • Clinton’s largest contributor is Soros Fund Management, having contributed over $7 million alone. Bernie’s largest contributors are employees of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Inc., at $254,000 dollars between them. His top 20 donors (or groups of donors) total just over $1.2 million in donations, or roughly 18% of what Soros Fund Management alone has given Clinton.
  • Each of Clinton’s top 18 contributor sources have individually donated more than all of Bernie’s top 20 combined.
  • Clinton’s top 20 contributors have donated over $48 million alone.
  • The industry leading the way in funding Clinton’s campaign would be Securities and Investments, eclipsing $21 million. This compares to Bernie, with retirees and educators being the largest donor pools, coming in at $3 and $2.5 million respectively.

Reliance on big donations is Clinton’s biggest weaknesses in the Democratic nominating process — aside from perhaps her handsome speaking fees from Wall Street — and they might also be the only things that can stand in her way of securing the Democratic nomination for President. Despite being a huge weakness, Clinton is also justifiably dependent on those types of donors, and forgoing them may cost her the nomination anyway. In other words, Hillary Clinton might need to eliminate her dependence on large donations and super PACs in order to defeat Bernie Sanders, but doing so might cause her to lose to Bernie Sanders, who has won 6 out of the last 7 primaries and caucuses. That’s the case we intend to make below in defense of Clinton’s fundraising strategy.

Clinton wasn’t supposed to have to spend $100 million to become the nominee, but here she is doing just that, making fundraising a huge priority. It’s a catch-22 if ever there were one, which is why some people might have a little sympathy and be forgiving toward her. Let’s go over some of the reasons one might be forgiving on this issue.

She has a ton of existing relationships that need cultivating

Between being a high-powered lawyer, the First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, a Senator from New York, and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has built a lot of very meaningful and influential relationships with a lot of important and influential people over the decades. Those folks have invested a lot of time and money in helping her career along the way, and they seem intent on helping her make it back to the White House.

Is there some quid pro quo going on? Almost definitely, but this is politics in America, and it goes far beyond just campaign contributions. Her large donors are the same ones keeping Republicans out of office all across the country, making this a case where the argument can be made that the ends justify the means. If they’re pressuring her to win, it’s no wonder she’s relying on them to help fund her way.

She has to defend herself against Republican attacks

Whether you attribute it to sexism, political opposition, or just a general dislike of her, the Republicans will stop at nothing to bring Clinton down. At least $3.3 million dollars has been spent by super PACs in opposition of Clinton’s bid for the White House, all from right wing PACs. Bernie Sanders has only seen about $55,000 spent in opposition to him, including $10,000 from a PAC supporting Martin O’Malley.

There is a huge discrepancy for a few reasons. The first of which is that Hillary Clinton has more skeletons in her closet than Bernie, between her using of a private email server for official emails while Secretary of State to the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. Naturally, people can fan a flame when there is already a fire, but are they skeletons democratic voters should be concerned with? Probably not, though Buzzfeed does remind us that the latter half of April will see one more round of depositions from Clinton and her aides about her preference for a private email server. Will anything come of it? No, probably not, but there is still that cloud over her head. Benghazi, on the other hand, is all but a non-issues for most Democrats, even though Republicans are expected to hit her hard with it should she be the Democratic nominee for President.

Democrats and progressives all have their own reasons for not like/trusting/wanting Clinton, but those aren’t relevant to this particular argument.

Couple that with the understanding that Clinton has long been seen as the eventual nominee for the Democrats, and it’s not surprising that Republicans have been gunning for her every step of the way. Those two factors alone would push the amount of money needed to defend her image into the tens of millions of dollars range.

Bernie Sanders has an incredibly clean record, in contrast, which is probably why he polls much better in hypothetical head-to-head matchups with Republicans than Clinton does. However, he can expect to see an increase in the use of the words “socialist” and “communist” if he makes it to the general election, once Republicans do turn their attention toward him. Our thoughts are that those words are next to meaningless for most people who paid even the least bit of attention during high school. Combine that with the fact the Republicans have overused the word so much the past 8 years that its efficacy as an insult is rapidly deteriorating.

Still, Clinton walking around with the target that she does puts her right in the sights of the GOP, and that takes money to survive.

She’s been around so long that it’s hard to consistently generate much enthusiasm

This is a completely backhanded defense, admittedly, but it’s also completely fair and unbiased. Hillary Clinton has been one of the world’s most notable, powerful and influential people of the last 23 years — and the most in all regards as a woman. She’s been involved at the highest levels of global politics since 1993, campaigning for her husband’s initiatives while he was President, casting important votes on bills as a Senator, and helping President Obama accomplish many goals during his presidency. This of course ignores everything — good and bad — about her time as Secretary of State. All that and this is also her second presidential campaign.

When you’ve been that involved and that important for so long, it’s nearly impossible to generate as much grassroots excitement as what Bernie Sanders has managed. Interestingly, he’s actually been involved in national politics since 1991, a full two years before Clinton. He was in the House of Representatives from 1991 to 2007, when he moved over to the Senate. His profile just pales in comparison to Clinton’s — even if his accomplishments don’t — hence why so many people are feeling the Bern.

Clinton is the known commodity, and people rarely get excited for the known commodity. Where Bernie routinely attracts over 10,000 supports — and occasionally 15,000 — to his rallies, Clinton has to methodically and systematically target likely supporters through traditional canvassing and media advertising, both of which cost big bucks. Word of mouth is helping her opponent right now, which means Clinton herself has to spend more money to defeat that grassroots exuberance.

Now, this experience or exposure does not automatically make her qualified to be President. That’s a debate for other people to have. Our argument is simply that this makes it difficult for her in some ways to fundraise like Bernie, from everyday people who he represents.

It’s win or bust

Hillary Clinton’s political career is hanging in the balance of this election. If she doesn’t secure the nomination to represent the Democratic Party in the general election, she can probably kiss any chance of holding public office or an important position in government again. Which is when we get back to those important connections that have helped fuel her campaign. She is, for better or worse, indebted to a small group of influential people who’ve helped her political career grow over the years. Clinton’s rise to such great heights has been impressive, especially when you consider how difficult it is for women to ascend to the top-most levels of American politics. She’s closer to being President than any woman has been before, with a not-so-small bit of thanks to those people who have been supporting her over the decades.

And that’s stressful. She’s not only facing media scrutiny and Republican attacks, but she probably also feels a great deal of responsibility to her friends and allies. They’ve stuck by her for 20+ years, and there is no way she is prepared to let them down. Beyond just those individuals, she also has the weight of the entire Democratic establishment hedging their bets that she’s the best candidate to win the general election. To meet all the expectations before her, is it really fair to judge her for not playing by Bernie Sanders’ rules? Isn’t meeting her legal obligation enough? She has debts to pay, and the only way to pay them is to win.

We’re rewriting the rules on her

Which brings us to the last part of the discussion. Hillary Clinton hasn’t broken any campaign finance laws that we know of. The standards by which we are judging her are the standards of her opponent, not the law. Kudos to Bernie Sanders for running a campaign without a super PAC and by only accepting donations from everyday people, but Hillary Clinton isn’t Bernie. She has a lot more pressure and a lot more expectations driving her, forcing her to tap into every fundraising source that she’s able to tap into.

Everyone knows the Republicans will be tapping into super PACs and large contributors, so to stay competitive Hillary Clinton is likely to have to play by the same rules. Because she’s such an easy target for the GOP, and because she can’t generate the same type of grassroots support as Bernie Sanders or, and we hesitate to use his name in comparison to either Democratic candidate, Donald Trump, it seems forgivable that she’d need to utilize all means possible to finance her campaign. She has to campaign like a Republican to beat the Republicans.

Whether or not  to accept these defenses is up to the voters, and it’s not something a website with a funny name can decide for them. Men’s Trait is 100% in support of comprehensive and meaningful campaign finance reform, including a constitutional amendment that completely eliminates all outside funding for political campaigns, so don’t look at our argument as an endorsement of the behavior. We are proud that there is a politician willing to fundraise the organic way and freeing himself of obligations to powerful elites in the form of Bernie Sanders, and it’s a shame Hillary Clinton can’t do the same. But, again, she’s indebted to the process and to people who’ve hitched their wagons to the Hillary-Clinton-for-POTUS train.

When it comes to being a trailblazer in forgoing traditional campaign funding, Hillary Clinton isn’t the type of candidate who could walk the walk on campaign finance reform. She’s simply too much of a politician to be a leader in this regard. As it stands today, Clinton’s only option is to run a campaign that exploits all existing campaign finance laws to their fullest extent. Bernie Sanders has proven that he can successfully run a campaign outside of the norm, but he benefits from luxuries that Clinton doesn’t. His record is far cleaner, especially while Clinton is facing scandals in the form of her private email server and her role in Benghazi, and Republicans either haven’t been going after him to the same extent or they can’t find things to fault him over. He’s also able to generate more word-of-mouth buzz and energize large swaths of the population just by being different and genuine.

Hillary Clinton is too entrenched in Washington politics to be a trailblazer right now. Her party is counting on her, and so are a lot of longtime allies who’ve been supporting her and her career for decades. They’ve all made investments in her career, and it’s now or never for them to see a return on that investment. Those are legitimate complaints against her in their own right, but they’re also really strong defenses for why she needs to exploit a fairly lax set of campaign finance laws to the best of her ability. For her to secure the nomination, and then go on to win the presidency, she needs all the money she can get.

Judge her for getting herself in this position, or for being the type of politician who’s beholden to outside interests, but try not to hold it against her for playing the game. She’s just trying to win the Presidency.

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Preston Hemmerich

Preston fancies himself somewhat intelligent and a very poor joke teller. He enjoys writing about food, pets, politics and the occasional bit of social commentary. He has four dogs, a cat, and a pretty awesome husband.