By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, Americablog, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. This piece first appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.
I’ll put the bottom line first. There is no way that Hillary Clinton is not a strong supporter of TPP and Fast Track. Read on for why.
There has been a lot written lately, including here, about the Democratic Party split between progressives and “progressives” — the former of whom have most of the people on their side, and the latter of whom have most of the money. Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Alan Grayson and others are firmly in the progressive camp, what’s being called the “Warren wing” of the party.
Most Democratic Party officials and electeds, however, are in the latter camp, which many call the “Wall Street wing,” though huge swaths of American (and foreign) moneyed interests, not just those on Wall Street, are supporters and controllers of that wing. To take just one moneyed interest — Big Oil — consider that:
- Exxon is one of the largest owners of unmonetized methane (yet-to-be-fracked natural gas) in the country.
- “Left-wing” support groups and think tanks like EDF (Environmental Defense Fund) and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) strongly support (pdf) the “temporary” transition to natural gas as a bridge fuel.
- By many reports both EDF and NRDC receive money in various ways, as well as advice, from the oil and gas industry and their advocates.
- NRDC in particular is said to have had a hand in Obama’s new climate plan.
- And … President Obama’s big climate plan — his “Clean Power Plan” (a very methane industry–like phrase) — happens to preference methane over everything else in our arsenal, including just quitting carbon in a World War II–style conversion and being done with it.
The “Wall Street wing” of the Democratic Party is really the Money wing and represents Money wherever it is found. Though some dispute the claim, it seems to me the split between the Warren wing and the Money wing is huge, a chasm, and shows little sign of healing at the moment. It may heal later, artificially and for a time, around a Clinton candidacy, but that time isn’t now.
Hillary Clinton and the Money Wing
I think it’s fair to say, regardless of how you view Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate, that her biggest hurdle on the Democratic side is her perceived connection to Big Money, and lots of it. Her family grew rich by cultivating people with money; her foundation grew fat by cultivating people (and nations) with money; and her donor list has historically included holders of big money, especially Wall Street holders (though Obama seems to have out-raised her on Wall Street in 2008).
She may be able to shed these concerns — there is much time left, too much in fact, until the Democratic primary elections. But she may not need to shed them; for example, the specter of “Republicans in the White House!” may be too much for even the most progressive of voters. We’ll have to see how this plays out. Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that the tag “friend of money” is one of the vulnerabilities Ms. Clinton may have to overcome.
Center for American Progress and the World of Big Money
One of the most important — and “centrist” (code for “corporate-friendly”) — think tanks in the Democratic Party ecosystem is the Center for American Progress, or CAP. They do some good work, and their associated Web group, ThinkProgress, does excellent work. But when it comes time to put their “money” where Money’s mouth is — for example, to support cuts to Social Security and Medicare — CAP is on the anti-progressive side, and reliably so.
CAP is strongly connected to the Clinton ecosystem as well as the party ecosystem. CAP was founded by John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff. He’s now chair of the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign. The current president of CAP is Neera Tanden, who worked for the Obama and Clinton administrations, and also on the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign. With $40 million in 2013 revenue, CAP and those associated with it stand at or near the center of the center of mainstream Democratic politics.
CAP is also extremely secretive about where its money comes from. Here’s the always excellent Ken Silverstein, writing in The Nation in 2013 (my emphasis):
Nowadays, many Washington think tanks effectively serve as unregistered lobbyists for corporate donors, and companies strategically contribute to them just as they hire a PR or lobby shop or make campaign donations. And unlike lobbyists and elected officials, think tanks are not subject to financial disclosure requirements, so they reveal their donors only if they choose to. That makes it impossible for the public and lawmakers to know if a think tank is putting out an impartial study or one that’s been shaped by a donor’s political agenda. “If you’re a lobbyist, whatever you say is heavily discounted,” says Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University and an expert on political ethics. “If a think tank is saying it, it obviously sounds a lot better. Maybe think tanks aren’t aware of how useful that makes them to private interests. On the other hand, maybe it’s part of their revenue model.”
CAP has emerged as perhaps the most influential of all think tanks during the Obama era, and there’s been a rapidly revolving door between it and the administration. CAP is also among the most secretive of all think tanks concerning its donors. Most major think tanks prepare an annual report containing at least some financial and donor information and make it available on their websites. According to CAP spokeswoman Andrea Purse, the center doesn’t even publish one.
Purse told me that CAP “follows all financial disclosure requirements with regard to donors…. We don’t use corporate funds to pay for research or reports.” But she flatly refused to discuss specific donors or to provide an on-the-record explanation for why CAP won’t disclose them.
After growing rapidly in its first few years, tax records show, CAP’s total assets fell in 2006 for the first time, from $23.6 million to $20.4 million. Assets started growing again in 2007 when CAP founded the Business Alliance, a membership rewards program for corporate contributors, and then exploded when Obama was elected in 2008. According to its most recent nonprofit tax filing, CAP’s total assets now top $44 million, and its Action Fund treasury holds $6 million more.
A confidential CAP donor pitch I obtained describes the Business Alliance as “a channel for engagement with the corporate community” that provides “the opportunity to…collaborate on common interests.” It offers three membership levels, with the perks to top donors ($100,000 and up) including private meetings with CAP experts and executives, round-table discussions with “Hill and national leaders,” and briefings on CAP reports “relevant to your unique interests.”
Regardless of what you think of CAP and what it accomplishes, there’s no question that CAP inhabits, is part of, the world of Big Money, just as Wall Street is part of that world, Ford Foundation is part of that world, and everything touched by the Kochs, such as PBS. Welcome to the One Percent and their interests.
CAP’s Donor List
Since the Silverstein article came out, CAP released its donor list:
The liberal think tank Center for American Progress on Friday revealed that it’s funded by some of the country’s largest and most powerful corporations, trade associations and lobbying firms.
Major donors to the group and its affiliate social welfare nonprofit Center for American Progress Action Fund include major retailers, energy interests, health care companies and other corporate actors who spend millions on lobbying and influence peddling in the nation’s capital, according to a list posted on the center’s website.
The group — which is a fundraising powerhouse that takes in about $40 million a year — released its donor list as founder and chairman John Podesta heads into the Obama White House to serve as a senior adviser.
Those corporations and trade associations represent a cross section of corporate America and include Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Google, defense giant Northrop Grumman, T-Mobile, Toyota, Visa, GE, among others. CAP did not disclose the donation amounts.
America’s Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP — a major player in the health care debate contributed to the group, as did Hollywood’s advocacy arm, the Motion Picture Association of America. Other corporate donors include Microsoft, PepsiCo, Samsung, CVS Caremark, Comcast NBCUniversal and many others.
The firm also has a number of major K Street lobbying firms on the corporate donor list including Akin Gump, the Glover Park Group, Livingston Group and the Downey McGrath Group. All represent dozens of corporate and nonprofit clients.
Do you think maybe CAP supports TPP? (Can it afford not to?)
CAP Strongly Supports TPP
From the CAP main website, a piece written in 2012:
Japan’s Inclusion Makes the Trans-Pacific Partnership a Big Opportunity
New Agreement Could Lead to Better Trade Between U.S. and Japan
… The prospect of Japan joining the TPP is indeed promising for the United States. U.S. goods trade with current TPP economies constitutes 5.3 percent of total U.S. goods trade. Japan’s inclusion would double this to 10.6 percent.
And while Japan is already a leading destination for U.S. exports, the United States has a $62.6 billion goods trade deficit with it. The TPP could help bring down that deficit by reducing trade barriers and opening the Japanese market up to more exports from the United States and other countries. …
There’s even a nice picture of a woman riding a bike past Sony corporate headquarters, with kind words for each.
How Does Hillary Clinton Not Support TPP and Fast Track?
The Center for American Progress sits squarely in the world of money, the world that Obama and his push for TPP seem determined to serve. Hillary Clinton sits squarely in both the world of money and the world of CAP infrastructure. How does she not support TPP? When asked about TPP, all she can say is this:
Clinton punts on trade
Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she will wait until negotiations are completed to take a position on the sweeping Asia-Pacific trade deal being negotiated by the Obama administration.
“So, I have said I want to judge the final agreement,” she said during a campaign stop in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “I have been for trade agreements. I have been against trade agreements.”
Pressure on Clinton to take a position on trade has been coming from both sides, with liberal groups urging her to stand against the trade deal.But doing so would be difficult for Clinton, who backed the deal as a member of President Obama’s administration.
When asked about the TPP issue, campaign chief John Podesta, the same man mentioned above, former CAP chair, reportedly quipped, “Can you make it go away?”
This is not the behavior of a TPP opponent. Given all the information here (and there’s plenty more elsewhere), there is no way Hillary Clinton is not a strong supporter of TPP and Fast Track.