Almost a decade ago, as Hillary Clinton ran for re-election to the Senate on her way to seeking the presidency for the first time, the New York Times reported on her unusually close relationship with Corning, Inc., an upstate glass titan. Clinton advanced the company’s interests, racking up a big assist by getting China to ease a trade barrier. And the firm’s mostly Republican executives opened up their wallets for her campaign.
During Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, Corning lobbied the department on a variety of trade issues, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The company has donated between $100,000 and $250,000 to her family’s foundation. And, last July, when it was clear that Clinton would again seek the presidency in 2016, Corning coughed up a $225,500 honorarium for Clinton to speak.
In the laundry-whirl of stories about Clinton buck-raking, it might be easy for that last part to get lost in the wash. But it’s the part that matters most. The $225,500 speaking fee didn’t go to help disease-stricken kids in an impoverished village on some long-forgotten patch of the planet. Nor did it go to a campaign account. It went to Hillary Clinton. Personally.
The latest episode in the Clinton money saga is different than the others because it involves the clear, direct personal enrichment of Hillary Clinton, presidential candidate, by people who have a lot of money at stake in the outcome of government decisions. Her federally required financial disclosure was released to media late Friday, a time government officials and political candidates have long reserved for dumping news they hope will have a short shelf life.
Together, Hillary and Bill Clinton cleared $25 million on the lecture circuit over the last 16 months, according to a Hillary Clinton’s personal financial disclosure required of presidential candidates. A lot of the focus will naturally go toward the political argument that Clinton’s wealth makes her out of touch. The US has had plenty of good rich presidents and bad rich presidents. What’s more important is whether they are able to listen to all of the various interests without being unduly influenced by any of them.
There’s a reason government officials can’t accept gifts: They tend to have a corrupting effect. True, Hillary Clinton wasn’t a government official at the time the money was given. But it is very, very, very hard to see six-figure speaking fees paid by longtime political boosters with interests before the government — to a woman who has been running for president since the last time she lost — as anything but a gift.