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Team Obama Helped Clinton Retire 2008 Campaign Debt

campaign-spending

Bloomberg’s Joshua Green reports on “Obama’s Parting Gift to Hillary Clinton.”

Last week campaign disclosure reports revealed that Hillary Clinton had finally retired the debt from her 2008 presidential campaign—with a little help from the guy who beat her, Barack Obama. Clinton’s debt once totaled more than $20 million, although it had dwindled to about $250,000 by last year. That’s when a team of top Obama donors decided to surprise Clinton, and thank her for her loyal service, by raising enough money to pay off her bills. As secretary of state, she was forbidden from political fundraising.

According to a person involved in the effort who did not want to be named talking about internal fundraising strategy, the effort was launched last April by Steve Spinner, a California finance chairman for the Obama campaign; Jane Stetson, the former Democratic National Committee finance chairwoman; and Henry Munoz, the incoming DNC finance chairman. The challenge was tougher than it may appear, since it required a particular kind of donor. In order not to run afoul of campaign finance laws, the Obama team had to find people who had not already given Clinton the 2008 maximum primary donation of $2,300 or maxed out their total federal candidate donations during the 2012 cycle ($46,200). And of course, those people also had to be warmly disposed toward Clinton and still have plenty of free cash on hand.

The team found them by assigning an intern to comb through the records at OpenSecrets.org and see who still had room to give. In the end, it took the checkbooks of about 120 people and several months to retire the debt—I’m told the last check arrived in early July. And as it turned out, the Obama folks substantially overshot the mark. Clinton’s campaign, which has not yet formally been shut down, now shows a surplus of about $205,000.

A half million dollars is a pretty sweet parting gift.

I’m vaguely queasy about this. It’s legal, although only through extreme care. And, certainly, the nature of our system is that politicians–including and up to the president himself–are constantly seeking private donations. But it seems strange to have an ostensibly apolitical public official be on the receiving end of that sort of largess, let alone with the arm twisting of the president.

This is yet another in a seemingly endless string of “the real crime is what’s legal” cases. It’s not the conduct of any of the players here that concerns me so much as the game.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Armando says:

    You;re joking right? Of all the things to worry about, this has you concerned about political corruption? clinton could raise that in a week once she qas able to legally. This is dumb James.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Armando: As I note, “It’s not the conduct of any of the players here that concerns me so much as the game.” I don’t think either Obama or Clinton are corrupt. Nor do I have any reason to think that any of those contributors think they’re buying any significant influence over our foreign policy. I’m nonetheless queasy about large political donations to a sitting secretary of state.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  3. Nikki says:

    I’m going to agree with Armando. I honestly don’t see the corruption here. Her friends and supporters, with encouragement from the White House, retired her debt without her having to ask. So?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. That also would apply to frenemies.

    And obviously Chicago politicos and their money people don’t even take dumps in the morning without thinking about how it could advantage themselves politically. Money is leverage. Favors are leverage. Money favors are chips. Chips can be cashed in. Down the road. When necessary. The amount is not significant. Nor even germane. It’s the principle. Been that way for hundreds of years. Goes back to Tammany Hall.

    The chattering classes won’t connect the dots — the combination of naivete, inexperience and sheer loopiness there is surreal — but the dots are pretty f’n obvious. Clinton knows where a lot of bodies are buried. She also might become the next president. It’s actually that simple.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 13

  5. Franklin says:

    Campaign finance reform. Amend the Constitution if we have to do it. Anybody with me?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Without publicly funded elections, this sort of thing is going to be SOP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. rudderpedals says:

    What are your recommendations James? “The real crime is what’s legal” is so vague that this reader is questioning whether there’s actual bad acts here or if the piece is a reaction to something good happening to a politician you don’t like.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. James Joyner says:

    @rudderpedals: I don’t think cabinet officials should be allowed to accept donations to a political campaign.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. rudderpedals says:

    @James Joyner:
    If the Secretary gave favors in return for the contributions I’m with you. But if it’s democrat-friendly donors paying off democrat-friendly creditors? There’s no there there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. wr says:

    And yet you are perfectly comfortable with Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire intimately connected to Israel’s right-wing government, pouring millions of dollars into the campaigns of Republican presidential candidates.

    I’m glad you draw a line somewhere, but I sure don’t understand your choice of location…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. An Interested Party says:

    And obviously Chicago politicos and their money people don’t even take dumps in the morning without thinking about how it could advantage themselves politically. Money is leverage. Favors are leverage. Money favors are chips. Chips can be cashed in. Down the road. When necessary. The amount is not significant. Nor even germane. It’s the principle. Been that way for hundreds of years. Goes back to Tammany Hall.

    This from someone who is probably in favor of the Citizens United decision…I bet he falls to see the irony…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. Nikki says:

    @wr: Adelson is currently under federal investigation, yet he is able to donate hundreds of millions to influence the election and, potentially, affect the outcome of that investigation. Did you hear a peep from James?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. wr says:

    @Nikki: A peep? Yeah, it came in the form of “money equals freedom” or “money equals speech” or something like that… Not as egregiously as Doug, who seems to believe that only money counts as speech…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. James Joyner says:

    @Nikki: @wr: I’m uncomfortable, generally, with our system of election financing. I just can’t think of an alternative system that’s constitutional and practical. Public financing, for example, can work in the context of a parliamentary system but not one with 536 individual races across the country. And, even aside from 1st Amendment issues, constraints on spending are a huge boost to incumbents.

    In this particular case, the additional wrinkle is that Clinton is a cabinet officer–and our chief diplomat–rather than an elected politician. That makes me slightly more uncomfortable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner: From which it follows you don’t think a president should be able to appoint any of his rivals for the presidency to the cabinet, as they’ll all have campaign debt they need to pay off. So much for Team of Rivals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0