Horowitz: Clinton Foundation Cash & Email Problems Creates Opening for Dem Challengers

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


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Rob Horowitz

The saturation media coverage of the potential nexus between both contributions to The Clinton Foundation and certain speech fees paid to former President Clinton and decisions and recommendations from the State Department made while Hillary Clinton served as Secretary of State, coming on top of the lingering questions about the former Secretary’s use of a private e-mail server has created an opening for the current crop of candidates looking to challenge her for the nomination.  Perhaps of more concern to the Clinton campaign, it could also persuade potentially more formidable challengers, such as former Vice-President Al Gore , California Governor Jerry Brown, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, current Vice-President Joe Biden or even Senator Elizabeth Warren(D-MA) to take another look at getting in the race.  

The unappetizing mix of millions of dollars of donations to the Clinton Foundation from people with business interests that could be potentially impacted by State Department decisions and recommendations, the large speech fees paid former President Bill Clinton by some of these same interests, and the failure to report some of these contributions, despite an agreement to do so with the Obama Administration provides the kind of potent media stew that is already doing real damage to the Clinton candidacy.  Only 38% of likely voters say Hillary Clinton is honest and trustworthy as opposed to 54% who say she is not, according to a recent Quinnipiac Poll.

Further, the responses so far from the Clinton campaign to the current controversy as well as to the continuing questions about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as Secretary of State have made an admittedly thorny set of problems, worse.  Given the serious nature of the accusations and the extensive and documented research done by Peter Schweitzer, the author of the forthcoming book Clinton Cash,  who is the main source of the new information about the questionable donations to the Clinton Foundation, attacking him as a partisan right winger with an agenda is not only insufficient; it is backfiring.   Schweitzer has smartly shared information with the New York Times and Washington Post and other mainstream and credible media outlets and encouraged them to do more reporting based on his research. This approach resulted in a damaging front page New York Times story last week.  

The failure of the Clinton counter-attacks to work is evidenced by the critical comments of Bloomberg Politics Managing Editor Mark Halperin on This Week with George Stephanopoulis this past Sunday. Halperin, who tends to be more supportive than not to both Clintons in his analysis, said, “Imagine if an Assistant Secretary of State had done what Hillary Clinton-- what we know Hillary did. They would be out of the State Department….If they hadn’t been so careless at the Foundation, if she hadn’t deleted the emails, if they put somebody out on this show today to answer these questions a lot of this can be put to rest, but none of these things are true.”

So far, there doesn’t appear to be convincing evidence that Hillary Clinton’s decisions at the State Department were influenced either by the large donations to The Clinton Foundation or by speech fees paid to her husband. In fact, Peter Schweitzer himself acknowledged on Fox News Sunday that he had no direct evidence of specific quid pro quos.  This provides the opportunity to limit the damage with a straightforward response from Hillary Clinton herself in which she answers all the questions, openly admits mistakes, and unveils new strong rules of the road to demonstrate that she has taken to heart the need to provide credible and ironclad separation of her candidacy and potential Presidency from Foundation fundraising and former President Bill Clinton’s paid speechmaking.

However, even if this situation is better-handled going forward, the supposed inevitability of Hillary Clinton’s march to the nomination, always a bit of an iffy proposition given the wide-open nature of the Democratic nomination process,  is now firmly in the rearview mirror.  

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at University of Rhode Island.


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