Hil­lary Clin­ton’s guilt by as­so­ci­a­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - DANAMIL­BANK Twit­ter: @Mil­bank

Rep. Sean Duffy, a Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can who was a re­al­ity TV star be­fore en­ter­ing pol­i­tics, is un­likely to be listed in any Smartest Mem­ber of Congress rank­ings. Yet even he finds it easy to un­cover scan­dal at the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion.

At a House hear­ing last week, Duffy was in high dud­geon, dis­cussing ties be­tween Hil­lary Clin­ton and Boe­ing. “In ’ 09, Sec­re­tary Clin­ton

... makes a shame­less pitch in Rus­sia that a Rus­sian air­line should buy Boe­ing air­planes,” he said. “I would like all air­lines to buy our great Amer­i­can jets, but she’s mak­ing a pitch as the sec­re­tary of state! And then, um, in 2010, a short while later, ac­tu­ally Boe­ing gets the con­tract for $3.7 bil­lion. And af­ter that, it’s amaz­ing: Boe­ing makes a $900 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion to the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion!”

At this point, Duffy’s neigh­bor, Rep. Bill Huizenga (RMich.) qui­etly told him the con­tri­bu­tion was $900,000, not $900 mil­lion.

“Thank you, Bill,” Duffy said, with­out cor­rect­ing the record.

Mil­lion, thou­sand — what­ever. It’s hard to know what’s more clown­ish: Duffy’s be­lief that the sec­re­tary of state shouldn’t tout U.S. goods abroad, or that a $900,000 char­i­ta­ble con­tri­bu­tion from Boe­ing (one of about 150,000 donors con­tribut­ing about $2 bil­lion to the foun­da­tion) amounts to scan­dal.

But Duffy is right about one thing: There doesn’t have to be smoke to give the ap­pear­ance of fire at the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion. The sprawl­ing char­ity has sucked in so much cash from so many sources that, with some cre­ativ­ity, it can be tied to vir­tu­ally any skul­dug­gery.

Al­leged wrong­do­ing at FIFA? There’s a Clin­ton tie. In­ter­na­tional arms deal­ers? The Krem­lin? Ura­nium pro­duc­tion? Hu­man­rights vi­o­la­tors? Known felons? All can be con­nected to the Clin­tons.

As with the Duffy ac­cu­sa­tion, the al­le­ga­tions are of­ten du­bi­ous. But Clin­ton and her hus­band have only them­selves to blame for mak­ing them­selves vul­ner­a­ble to guilt by as­so­ci­a­tion at­tacks. They have man­aged to make Hil­lary Clin­ton con­spic­u­ously out of tune with the mood of the 2016 elec­torate: At a time of ris­ing pop­ulist back­lash against Wall Street, in­equal­ity and wealth pur­chased priv­i­lege, there is no Demo­crat more closely tied to the rich and the pow­er­ful than Clin­ton. At a time when Democrats need to draw contrasts with Repub­li­cans by stick­ing up for the lit­tle guy, Clin­ton’s so­lic­i­ta­tion of— and fa­vors for— the pow­er­ful make her an in­au­then­tic mes­sen­ger.

A New York Times/CBS News poll last week found that 65 per­cent of Amer­i­cans think the gap be­tween rich and poor is a prob­lem that needs im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion, and the con­cern ex­ists among Repub­li­cans and in­de­pen­dents as well as Democrats. By a lop­sided mar­gin of 74 per­cent to 3 per­cent, Amer­i­cans said cor­po­ra­tions have too much in­flu­ence on Amer­i­can life and pol­i­tics rather than too lit­tle.

This presents a nat­u­ral op­por­tu­nity for Democrats— or it would if they weren’t al­most as closely tied to the rich as Repub­li­cans. An Elec­tion Day poll con­ducted for the AFLCIO last year found 80 per­cent of vot­ers agree­ing with the sen­ti­ment that “politi­cians from both the Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can par­ties do too much to sup­port Wall Street fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests and not enough to help av­er­age Amer­i­cans.”

As The Post has doc­u­mented, the Clin­tons’ char­i­ta­ble ef­forts have been closely tied to the con­sid­er­able for­tune they amassed for them­selves. Bill Clin­ton was paid at least $26 mil­lion in speak­ing fees by en­ti­ties that were ma­jor donors to the foun­da­tion. The foun­da­tion has also been good for the bal­ance sheets of Clin­ton friends such as Sid­ney Blu­men­thal, who re­ceived about $10,000 a month from the foun­da­tion while pro­vid­ing his thoughts on Libya to then Sec­re­tary Clin­ton.

The vast ar­ray of con­trib­u­tors to the foun­da­tion (and those who paid the Clin­tons to give speeches) gives end­less ma­te­rial to crit­ics, and to the me­dia: the ura­nium min­ing com­pany that fun­neled money to the foun­da­tion while it had busi­ness be­fore the State Depart­ment; the State armssale ap­provals for foun­da­tion con­trib­u­tors; the scores of foun­da­tion donors who lob­bied State; the Canadian af­fil­i­ate of the foun­da­tion that didn’t dis­close its donors; the Keystone XL pipe­line bankers who paid the Clin­tons to speak; the fees charged to a char­ity for tsunami vic­tims; the use of an un­re­ported passthrough com­pany; Hil­lary Clin­ton’s brother’s ties to a Haitian gold mine; the money from coun­tries with poor hu­man­rights records; and con­tri­bu­tions to the foun­da­tion from Qatar while Bill Clin­ton gave a boost to its con­tro­ver­sial World Cup bid.

The Clin­tons’ de­fend­ers will say none of this is il­le­gal, and that may be so. The prob­lem is ap­pear­ance. Clin­ton can talk all she wants about in­come in­equal­ity and re­duc­ing the in­flu­ence of money in pol­i­tics, but her re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence makes her seem in­sin­cere.

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