By Sean Connolly, editorial columnist
In what has quickly become an infamous video, Hillary Clinton blasted a woman who had asked her about campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry. Clinton claimed these accusations were lies put forward by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Later, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” she said “I feel sorry sometimes for the young people who, you know, believe this. They don’t do their own research.”
The Clinton campaign has, apparently deliberately, ignored the fact that the woman who confronted Clinton, Eva Resnick-Day, is not a member of the Sanders campaign, but an activist with independent environmental organization Greenpeace. She was, in fact, extremely well-informed, with information that comes not from the Sanders campaign but from Greenpeace’s own research. Clinton surely knew this when she went on the show. She didn’t change her line, however, because it’s more politically expedient to pretend these are baseless accusations created by the Sanders campaign itself. When Sanders makes accusations against Clinton for taking money from the fossil fuel industry, he is generally taking his statistics directly from this report. Unless Clinton believes Greenpeace is a fundamentally dishonest organization – a hard sell – then it’s hard to see how she thinks the Sanders campaign is “lying.”
In the end, this squabbling over sources allows the Clinton campaign to do two things. It paints Sanders as disingenuous, which is important, since he consistently outranks Clinton as the more honest candidate. It also allows the Clinton campaign to ignore the heart of the issue. Clinton shouldn’t be taking money from any special interest lobbyists, whether or not they have ties to the fossil fuel industry. She consistently claims the money she receives from rich donors won’t influence her policy decisions. I believe her. That’s never been the issue. I don’t believe the money she is receiving will change her views; I believe that the fact that she thinks it is morally permissible to take this money in the first place means her views are already fundamentally different from mine.
It’s becoming an increasingly common sentiment that politicians shouldn’t take money from large-money donors. Monday’s Democracy Spring protests are a poignant example of this. It essentially serves as a way for the rich to pick and choose candidates – historically, candidates without support from people with significant money haven’t stood a chance of winning an election. Many politicians use the insipid defense that “everyone does it,” as if they were teenagers explaining a pot habit to their parents and not elected officials who are supposed to represent the will of the people. But her opponent isn’t doing it, so how exactly does Clinton defend her actions? How does she defend accepting millions of dollars from Wall Street? On CNN, a Clinton campaign representative defended her actions by saying that she is trying to “raise resources.” How, exactly, is it moral to be raising this money from big money interests to fight an opponent who refuses money from the same interests?
The fact that she accepts these funds highlights a trend in her politics that I disagree with. If you’re willing to take money from an industry or special interest group, then you are inherently passing on credibility to that group. This is presumably part of the reason her campaign has pledged to not accept money from the private prison industry. If she had a similar moral opposition to other big-money interests, she would do the same with them. Lobbyists aren’t giving her money to try to change her mind; they’re giving her money because she’s already the candidate who better represents their interests. She’s already softer on Wall Street and slower to act on climate change. She accepts the money because she doesn’t have an inherent moral opposition to these industries. To her, these issues simply don’t take front and center; winning is more important.