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Clinton’s money grab comes with a price

If you still have any doubts about Hillary Clinton's stamina, consider the superhuman pace of fundraising the Democratic presidential nominee has maintained since declaring her candidacy for the White House. By one count, she has headlined 350 fundraisers in the past 18 months.

Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has repeatedly questioned his rival's ability to withstand the physical demands of the Oval Office, is dead wrong when he says Ms. Clinton "does one [campaign] stop and then goes home and sleeps." More often, she skips off to soirées in the Hamptons or Beverley Hills to pocket six-figure cheques from rich friends or lobbyists.

This, not her constitution, helps explain why her campaign schedule has been so much lighter than that of the needy narcissist who feeds off the adulation of his crowds. Ms. Clinton, who isn't fond of mingling with the masses, has squeezed campaign stops in between fundraisers, not the other way around. It's at these intimate affairs we're told that the real Hillary – warm, spontaneous and funny – emerges from her shell. Who wouldn't for a million bucks?

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Related: Campaign manager defends Clinton Foundation's fundraising efforts

Related: Many donors to Clinton Foundation met with Hillary when she was Secretary of State

Assuming she realizes her divine right, no U.S. president will have been lifted to office on the wings of so much money from so few people. Granted, she has been assisted in her lifelong quest by Mr. Trump's utter indecency and erratic behaviour. But when she takes office in January, Ms. Clinton will have gotten there by greedily milking the very system she has denounced. "There's no question that we need to make Washington work much better than it does today. And that means, in particular, getting unaccountable money out of our politics," Ms. Clinton says on her website. "That's why I'm so passionate about this issue, and I will fight hard to end the stranglehold that the wealthy and special interests have on so much of our government."

Don't hold your breath. Ms. Clinton has relied about half as much on small donors as President Barack Obama, who admittedly was no slouch at raking in the dough from the very rich. Neither comes close in popular financing to Ms. Clinton's 2016 primary rival, Bernie Sanders, who raised 59 per cent of his campaign funds in increments of $200 or less.

So far in this election cycle, Ms. Clinton has taken in $65-million (U.S.) in direct donations from contributors who work in the securities and investment industry commonly known as Wall Street, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in U.S. politics. That compares with the $23-million 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney collected and the $16.5-million Mr. Obama amassed in 2008, when he was Wall Street's preferred candidate. Investment industry types have only donated $717,000 to Mr. Trump's campaign. What a loser.

Of course, direct donations to Ms. Clinton – which are capped under U.S. campaign finance law at $5,400 per election cycle – account for only a fraction of the money she has raised to support her White House bid. By headlining joint events with the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Victory Fund, Ms. Clinton has been able to charge as much as $350,000 for a ticket to her fundraisers, such as the one she graced in April at the Los Angeles home of George and Amal Clooney.

The really big cheques – as if $350,000 isn't big enough – have been cut by billionaires who contribute to Priorities USA and other super PACs spending money to help elect her. Freed, in the name of free speech, by a 2010 Supreme Court ruling to collect unlimited donations, pro-Hillary super PACs have received $10-million-plus donations from half a dozen billionaires and $1-million-plus sums from dozens more wealthy folks. All while Ms. Clinton has channelled Mr. Sanders by excoriating the sinister effects of money in politics.

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Ms. Clinton's campaign advisers were aware that this behaviour would subject their candidate to charges of hypocrisy. It didn't take them long to get over it. After debating whether to voluntarily limit donations, disassociate from super PACs and ban lobbyists from acting as bundlers, they quickly dismissed such ideas.

"I'm ok just taking the money and dealing with any attacks. Are you guys ok with that?" campaign manager Robby Mook asked in an early 2015 e-mail released by WikiLeaks. "Take the money!!" communications director Jennifer Palmieri shot back.

It may be naive to think Ms. Clinton could have done it any other way. But her money grab may carry a hefty price tag – a presidency dogged by questions about her integrity.

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About the Author

Columnist Konrad Yakabuski writes on politics, policy and business for The Globe and Mail’s Comment section and Report on Business. More


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