Bill and Hillary Clinton have built an unrivalled global network of donors

November 21, 2015 11:46 am

 

Former
President and his wife, Democratic presidential candidate
Hillary Rodham Clinton, know how to work a crowd. Photo / AP

Over four decades of public life, Bill and Hillary Clinton have built
an unrivalled global network of donors while pioneering fundraising
techniques that have transformed modern politics and paved the way for
them to potentially become the first husband and wife to win the White
House.
The grand total raised for all of their political
campaigns and their family’s charitable foundation reaches at least $3
billion ($4.6 billion), according to a Washington Post investigation.
Their
fundraising haul, which began with US$178,000 for Bill Clinton’s
long-shot 1974 congressional bid, is on track to expand substantially
with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 White House run, which has already drawn
US$110 million in support.
The Post identified donations from
roughly 336,000 individuals, corporations, unions and foreign
governments in support of their political or philanthropic endeavours – a
list that includes top patrons such as Steven Spielberg and George
Soros, as well as lesser-known backers who have given smaller amounts
dozens of times.

Not included in the count are an untold number of small donors
whose names are not identified in campaign finance reports but together
have given millions to the Clintons over the years.
The majority
of the money – US$2 billion – has gone to the Clinton Foundation, one
of the world’s fastest-growing charities, which supports health,
education and economic development initiatives around the globe. A
handful of elite givers have contributed more than US$25 million to the
foundation, including Canadian mining magnate Frank Giustra, who is
among the wealthy foreign donors who have given tens of millions.
Separately,
donors have given US$1 billion to support the Clintons’ political races
and legal defence fund, making capped contributions to their campaigns
and writing six-figure cheques to the Democratic National Committee and
allied super PACs.
The Post investigation found that many top
Clinton patrons supported them in multiple ways, helping finance their
political causes, their legal needs, their philanthropy and their
personal bank accounts. In some cases, companies connected to their
donors hired the Clintons as paid speakers, helping them collect more
than US$150 million on the lecture circuit in the past 15 years.
The
couple’s biggest individual political benefactors are Univision
chairman Haim Saban and his wife, Cheryl, who have made 39 contributions
totalling US$2.4 million to support the Clintons’ races since 1992. The
Sabans have also donated at least $10 million to the foundation.
The
Clintons kept big contributors in their orbit for decades by
methodically wooing competing interest groups – toggling between their
liberal base and powerful constituencies, according to donors, friends
and aides who have known the couple since their Arkansas days.
They
made historic inroads on Wall Street, pulling in at least US$69 million
in political contributions from the employees and political action
committees of banks, insurance companies, and securities and investment
firms.
The Clintons’ ties to the financial sector strained their
bonds with the left, particularly organised labour. But unions
repeatedly shook off their disappointment, giving at least US$21 million
to support their races.
The Clintons’ fundraising operation –
US$3 billion amassed by one couple, working in tandem for more than four
decades – has no equal.
By comparison, three generations of the
Bush family, America’s other contemporaneous political dynasty, have
raised about $2.4 billion for their state and federal campaigns and half
a dozen charitable foundations, according to a Post tally of their
fundraising from 1988 through 2015 – even though the family has
collectively held the presidency longer than the Clintons.
Both Clintons declined to be interviewed or comment for this article.
Josh
Schwerin, a spokesman for Hillary Clinton, said campaign officials
could not recreate the Post’s work to verify its findings.
“However,
it should be noted that it would be misleading, at best, to conflate
donations to a philanthropy with political giving,” Schwerin said. “And
regarding the campaign contributions, the breadth and depth of their
support is a testament to the fact that they have both dedicated their
lives to public service and fighting to make this country stronger.”
The
Clinton donor network is now serving as both a prime asset and
liability for the former first lady, US senator and Secretary of State
as she seeks the Democratic presidential nomination.
Her imposing
resources helped scare off would-be Democratic rivals, such as Vice
President Joe Biden, and have positioned her well against her main
challenger for the party nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
By the end of September, Clinton had raised US$35 million more than
Sanders, and she had pulled in more than double the total collected so
far by the top campaign fundraiser in the GOP field, retired
neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
But in an election shaped by a mounting
distaste for the influence of big money, Clinton’s long-standing ties to
a cadre of wealthy patrons cuts against her efforts to cast herself as a
champion of the middle class and a leader who will challenge the
influence of large donors.
The Clintons have also been quick to
seize on new sources of funds: Cuban Americans in Florida, Chinese
immigrant communities in New York and wealthy figures around the world.
And they have embraced bold new forms of fundraising, finding ways to
inject corporate donations into political causes through nonprofit
organisations in Arkansas and unregulated national party accounts.
Most of all, the Clintons have excelled at leveraging access to their power and celebrity.
Following
the advice of a young Democratic party finance chair named Terry
McAuliffe, who is now Governor of Virginia, the Clintons used the White
House to entertain major donors. Perks included overnights in the
Lincoln Bedroom. After leaving office, Bill Clinton headlined
high-wattage gatherings for foundation donors around the globe. And
supporters this year are jockeying to host intimate receptions at their
homes during which they get a chance to mingle with Hillary Clinton.
Building such a financial network – and nurturing it over four decades – is not easy, even with the perks of office.
Bill
Clinton used his charisma and intellect to captivate new supporters.
And Hillary applied her characteristic attentiveness – sending
handwritten notes to celebrate engagements and new babies, and poetry
books to comfort those in mourning – to win lifelong allies.
“She
remembers everything we ever talked about,” said close friend Susie
Tompkins Buell, co-founder of Esprit, who, with her husband, Mark, has
given US$420,000 to the Clintons’ campaigns and US$11.25 million to
their foundation.
“Hillary does not like to ask for money,” Buell
added. “It’s not natural for her. But she’s got really good people who
work for her who speak for her, and she’s very, very appreciative when
she knows someone has done something for her. And you know it’s
sincere.”
As she makes her second White House bid, Hillary
Clinton is raising money in a dramatically different environment than
her past campaigns. Since then, the Supreme Court has made it easier for
wealthy individuals, corporations and unions to spend huge, unregulated
sums on political activity.
She appears willing to embrace the new fundraising techniques.
If
she secures the Democratic nomination, she is expected to bring in US$1
billion during this election cycle – possibly matching what she and her
husband collected for all their previous campaigns combined.

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