Smoke Machine Smoke Gets in Our Eyes

Re the Clinton Foundation “scandal,” which looks like another product of the right-wing smoke machine.

It is a truism of U.S. politics that anyone who donates big bucks to anyone’s campaign for office can get an audience with the officeholder. That’s how the system works and every single politician rolls with it because not to do so would needlessly offend donors, whose help may well be needed in future campaigns. There’s absolutely no violation of ethics laws when an officeholder meets with someone who has contributed directly to that officeholder’s political campaigns.

In fact, by 8-0, the S.Ct. recently held that former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell had not violated federal ethics laws by repeatedly asking executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. for loans and gifts of money, clothes, golf fees and equipment, trips, and private plane rides, in exchange for lending the prestige of the governor’s office to Williams’ company, which was trying to sell dietary supplements. The gifts and loans totaled at least $165,000. If anything was pay to play, that was it: a direct gift to a governor in return for meetings arranged with state agencies and good publicity for Williams’ supplements. But the S.Ct. said NOT ILLEGAL.

Keep that in mind while thinking about the current hooraw about the Clinton Foundation, which is not an officeholder of any kind, but a 401(c)(3) charitable entity.

Lots of entities, foreign and domestic, donated lots of money to the Clinton Foundation, before, during, and after Clinton’s time as Secretary of State. No one has alleged that any entity donated anything directly to either of the Clintons; everyone seems to concede that the Foundation used the funds to do very good, lifesaving work.

Sometimes donors wanted to meet with Secretary Clinton; occasionally a Foundation employee contacted a State Dept. employee and a meeting was arranged. So what? If a Red Cross staffer knew someone on Clinton’s staff and tried to set up a meeting for a big Red Cross donor, would that be the occasion for similar outrage?

Does anyone really think that U.S. foreign policy shifted even a little bit because a large donor to the Clinton Foundation chatted with Clinton for 10 minutes? If so, get a grip. Unless and until someone can show such a change, all I see is Clinton operating the way every single politician operates.

And in the meantime, where’s the outrage that the Donald won’t turn over his tax returns? Where’s the outrage that the Donald and his companies (in which he has a direct financial interest, unlike the Clintons in the Foundation) seem to be in debt to the Chinese? Isn’t that a direct, financial conflict of interest with the duties of the office he’s seeking?

Where’s the outrage that the Donald’s current campaign CEO has been the face of a racist, misogynist white nationalist website and that his former campaign manager apparently was paid millions of dollars by foreign politicians of countries that are not U.S. allies, who now may be bolstering Donald Trump’s campaign through Wikileaks? Who is getting to the bottom of the change in the Republican platform from supporting arms to the Ukraine government to eliminating that very plank and why? I can tell you: no one.

If it weren’t the Clintons, whom most of the GOP have hated with the white hot hatred of a thousand exploding suns for thirty years, would we even be talking about this latest faux “scandal”? I very much doubt it (although the GOP’s reaction to Obama makes me wonder). The Clintons are and have been a lightning rod for every right-wing conspiracy nut for the last 30 years.

God knows I’m not a big fan of the Clintons; I’ve been suffering from Clinton fatigue for years. But that’s exactly the point of the faux outrage over any little thing that can be hyped to sound deceptive or crooked or slimy. People do tend to think that where there’s smoke there must be fire, even if the smoke is coming out a full-time 24/7 smoke machine, funded by a hateful bunch of people who see the Clintons, liberals, Democrats, progressives, science, expertise, and knowledge as an existential threat to their own power, position in society, and the overwhelming privilege that they cannot stand to see diminished, even a little bit.

So as you listen to the talking heads — and to the Donald’s calls for a special prosecutor — keep Bob McDonnell and what the S.Ct. had to say about the government’s “open-ended” definition of misconduct: “Setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event does not, standing alone, qualify as an ‘official act.’” And if Clinton’s meetings are not official acts, why is all this smoke getting in our eyes?

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