WHAT do you do when the greatest democratic country the world throws up a presidential election in which neither candidate seems worthy of office? Donald Trump is a vain, belligerent, bigoted, misogynist with a borderline personality disorder who should never get within five feet of the Oval Office.
But Hillary isn’t exactly whiter than white. The fact that she is a woman, and a capable politician, has perhaps deflected criticism that might have come her way had she not been up against such a cartoon character as Trump. As so often in politics, her problem is a combination of money, influence and email traffic.
Hillary’s use of her use of personal email servers for her official business may look like a simple digital era mistake by an analogue politician. But there is more to it than that. Ms Clinton has been the target of a campaign by Wikileaks to expose conflicts of interest involving the Clintons and their highly lucrative charity work.
The central figure is one Doug Band, who’s being compared to the fixer Doug Stamper in House of Cards. His job was to ensure that Bill Clinton remained a global celebrity, and become extremely wealthy, following his departure from office in 2000. Band invited top businesses to fund the semi-charity Clinton Global Initiative, and allow Bill to gain millions in the process from speaking engagements and consultancies. He boasted that he raised around $100m for Clinton’s own account from big companies like Coca Cola, Dow Chemicals, Barclays.
No one is saying that Clinton’s charities didn’t benefit – they did. But Doug Band did too, through his lobbying firm Teneo. He became a revolving door between the Clintons and big business, and since CEOs don’t throw large sums around for nothing, there is understandable speculation about what they were buying: influence.
But whose influence? The Wall St Journal and others are suggesting this was access not just to a former president but to a future one as well. Doug Band, WSJ claims, occupied a special place in Hillary Clinton’s office which allowed his lobbying firm Teneo to operate within the US State Department itself. He was trading influence and cash on an industrial scale and appears to have been concerned about it. Wikileaks disclosed a memo in which he says:”if this gets out we are all screwed”.
Donald Trump is suggesting that the thousands of emails being investigated by the FBI will show that she was using her private email servers to promote this influence peddling. We don’t know this of course and the FBI has not said anything about the content of the emails it is scrutinising. There is no evidence that any firms received direct benefit from their investment in the Clintons. There is no evidence of illegality, though some claim that the federal statues might have been broken by Band.
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The Clinton “pay to play” affair has obvious resonances with the “cash for influence” scandals in the 1990s when UK politicians started taking money from private individuals. Tony Blair seems to have modelled his own money-making activities on the Clintons. (It is intriguing that he recently wound up the network of companies through which he made a fortune from consultancies).
This may not be “worse than Watergate”, as Trump claims, but at the very least it looks tawdry – as if Hillary Clinton is unable to see that her family’s colossal earnings from businesses constitute a conflict of interest. Hillary has been no slouch in raising her own cash from those $250,000 speeches to bankers like Goldman Sachs.
Of course this is nothing like the moral hazard involved in electing Donald Trump whose wheeler dealings over the decades with unsavoury characters in the Casino world look like a straight-to-video version of the Godfather. He has been involved in numerous dodgy schemes such as the phoney Trump University. But his manifest unsuitability for office seems to make him seem, in some way more authentic than Hillary Clinton. It’s as if voters are saying: yes we know he’s a bit of a crook, but at least it’s out in the open. People don’t like the smell of hypocrisy that seems to emanate from the Clinton camp. Working class Americans dislike glamour politicians who are in love with wealth and celebrity.
One’s tempted to say: a plague on both their houses. Unfortunately, one of them has to get the keys to the White House.