Tuesday, November 21, 2006

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In defense of Hillary Clinton

Anne Kornblut and Jeff Zeleny have an NYT front-pager that seems designed to knock Hillary Clinton down a peg or two:

She had only token opposition, but Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton still spent more on her re-election — upward of $30 million — than any other candidate for Senate this year. So where did all the money go?

It helped Mrs. Clinton win a margin of victory of more than 30 points. It helped her build a new set of campaign contributors. And it allowed her to begin assembling the nuts and bolts needed to run a presidential campaign.

But that was not all. Mrs. Clinton also bought more than $13,000 worth of flowers, mostly for fund-raising events and as thank-yous for donors. She laid out $27,000 for valet parking, paid as much as $800 in a single month in credit card interest and — above all — paid tens of thousands of dollars a month to an assortment of consultants and aides.

Throw in $17 million in advertising and fund-raising mailings, and what had been one of the most formidable war chests in politics was depleted to a level that leaves Mrs. Clinton with little financial advantage over her potential rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination — and perhaps even trailing some of them.

Now this would be an interesting story -- if the context suggests that she did in fact spend in a profligate manner compared to other politicos and diminshed her ability to collect future revenues.

Alas, the meat of the story suggests precisely the opposite:

[T]he way she spent the money troubled some of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters, many of whom have been called on repeatedly over the years to raise and give money for Bill Clinton’s two presidential campaigns, his legal expenses, his library, his global antipoverty and AIDS-fighting program and now his wife’s political career. One Clinton supporter said it would become harder to tap repeat donors if it appeared that the money was not being well spent.

Nonetheless, the senator is among the most formidable fund-raisers in her party and could raise a large amount of money quickly if needed....

Political campaigns are expensive affairs for any candidate, especially those running in a state as big as New York. Some of Mrs. Clinton’s expenditures, including the more than $10 million for direct mail fund-raising solicitations, will pay off if she runs for president by giving her an expanded list of individual donors around the nation.

She has now amassed a database that includes several hundred thousand new donors, 90 percent of whom contributed $100 or less, her advisers said. Under the new campaign finance law, such small donors are considered crucial to raising the large sums of money needed for a presidential campaign.

Other types of expenses are seen by campaigns as necessary good-will gestures toward donors and other supporters; Mrs. Clinton’s campaign cited this in justifying the roughly $51,000 she spent on professional photographers to provide pictures of her with guests. The candidate also sought to generate good will among her fellow Democratic candidates by giving more than $2.5 million to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other party groups.

Candidates routinely use campaign money for all types of expenses. Representative Corrine Brown, Democrat of Florida, spent $24,000 of her campaign money this year on flowers; her campaign said she sent them to the families of constituents who died. Representative Richard W. Pombo, Republican of California, spent $17,250 on balloons for a single event in July.

Mrs. Clinton’s aides offered varying explanations for her spending record. Some, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they are barred from discussing Mrs. Clinton’s intentions for 2008, said much of the spending amounted to an investment in voter and fund-raising databases that could form the basis of a presidential campaign. Others said the money went to ensuring as convincing a victory as possible.

Look, any candidate that has enough money to hire a blog consultant is probably overspending just a bit. That said, anyone prepping for a 2008 run would be expected to overspend in this election cycle. Clinton needed to win convincingly and to amass a healthy donor base, and both of these activities cost money.

I'm hardly a big fan of Hillary's, but this piece seems like ovekill to me.

posted by Dan on 11.21.06 at 08:55 AM


It depends on what you mean by overkill. I would never doubt Hillary Clinton's skills when it comes to organizing an election campaign, at least one against a weak opponent. This is what she does; in this respect she is the very model of a modern major politician.

But in modern Presidential campaigns, at least those of prospective candidates like Sen. Clinton, an essential element is, in fact, "...making consultants rich." Over a million to her pollster, almost a million to her communications director -- Mrs. Clinton plainly meant for her advisers to be bought and stay bought. Were she to get elected President, most of the people working for her now could expect big paydays. But her election is not a sure thing, and those paydays are in the best case at least a couple of years away. So Sen. Clinton's donors are actually giving their money now to ensure that Mark Penn and Mandy Grunwald can support themselves in the style to which people who make their living off the permanent campaign have become accustomed.

And who could object? After all, she is still Bill Clinton's wife.

posted by: Zathras on 11.21.06 at 08:55 AM [permalink]

You're missing the point, Dan. Hillary's extensive spending on herself may very well have been rational from a purely cynical point of view, but what does it say about her beliefs?

In 2006, control of the senate was very much up in the air. As it turns out, Democrats won, but it was close. Had Hillary given some of that money to the DSCC instead of spending it on herself, it wouldn't have been nearly so close.

If Hillary truly believed that it was essential for the Democratic party to win, she would have given more to the DSCC. Instead, she spent it all on herself. That shows that she wasn't really concerned with whether or not the Democrats control the senate. If you don't believe that it's important for the Democrats to win, then you shouldn't be considered for a leadership role in the Democratic party.

posted by: Josh Yelon on 11.21.06 at 08:55 AM [permalink]

wow, $800 in interest on a credit card bill? Why is this an issue in an election where you spend $30 Million?

posted by: bc on 11.21.06 at 08:55 AM [permalink]


Hillary gave more to the Democrats than any other member of Congress in either party.

Get your facts straight, buddy. I ain't no fan of Hillary, probably no chance I vote for her, but you are clearly just another ignorant, Hillary-bashing thug.

posted by: Will Helm on 11.21.06 at 08:55 AM [permalink]

Seems like overkill? It's a complete nonstory made into a story by ignoring the obvious: Hillary is going to have to do things other candidates might not because she is Hillary. Knuckle dragging conservatives have spent 10 years painting her as evil incarnate and an aggressive use of her fund raising abilities is her best weapon against them. I talk to people who don't know the slightest thing about politics, can't name the senators of their states, and yet because they occasionally listen to Rush they do know one thing for sure: Hillary is a bitch. Typical GOP dirty politics: create a false impression, force people to defend themselves, and then hit them below the belt again. [although in Kerry's case it was more of a rope a dope strategy]

Have you become more partisan Dan since joining Pajamas Media [horrible name by the way]? Seems to me you have.

posted by: saintsimon on 11.21.06 at 08:55 AM [permalink]

Don't those people who received money FROM Mrs. Clinton have to pay taxes on it? To me, the more politicians spend, the higher tax revenues for the government -- no?

posted by: gretchen on 11.21.06 at 08:55 AM [permalink]

Hillary is raising money for '08; what else is new? Now that Mark Warner isn't running, I'll probably support her.

Oh, and blog consultants are actually pretty important in campaigns these days, so don't knock 'em. ;)

posted by: temoc94 on 11.21.06 at 08:55 AM [permalink]

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