Monday :: Oct 8, 2007

Is Hillary Clinton a "Corporate Democrat"? - Part 1


by eriposte

UPDATE: Also see Part 2 and Part 3.

SUMMARY

This post examines the allegation that Sen. Hillary Clinton is a "Corporate Democrat" - namely, a person who is beholden to "Corporate America" and who is more likely to support "corporate interests" as President than the interests of average or middle-class Americans.

I find that the existing evidence, based on her Senatorial voting records compiled by Progressive Punch, Americans for Democratic Action, AFL-CIO and SEIU, does not really support this allegation. Indeed, the evidence suggests that Sen. Clinton's voting patterns are substantially and surprisingly progressive (ranging typically from 90-100%), including on corporate or labor issues. There are certainly serious issues where Sen. Clinton has unfortunately taken anti-progressive positions (e.g., her vote for a version of the Bankruptcy Bill in 2001), but the data reviewed here suggests that overall, she is far more progressive than corporatist. In the absence of additional or new data, I have to conclude that the label "Corporate Democrat", as applied to her, is inappropriate and extraordinarily misleading. In other words, while it is true that she has strong links to corporate America and corporatist interests, there is little or no evidence that she systematically votes in lock-step with those interests or even significantly in line with their positions. I provide a few plausible explanations for this dichotomy in the conclusions of this post.

Not surprisingly, outside of corporate or labor issues, Sen. Clinton's progressive scores take a small but non-trivial dip to the neighborhood of 80% on the topics of national security and war. This topic is not examined in this post.

Finally, the results discussed here should not in any way be interpreted as signifying an endorsement of her or of her practice of keeping unethical people like Mark Penn on her payroll (a practice that I find hard to understand or rationalize). I sincerely hope Sen. Clinton will reconsider having Penn on her payroll.

[NOTE: I should add that this assessment does not take into account Sen. Clinton's public statements on these matters that may or may not match her voting records. However, since I tend to believe that at the end of the day actions speak louder than words, I believe using her Senate voting records for this assessment is reasonable].

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

I've divided the post into the following sections for clarity. Note that all of the bolded text in this post is mine.

BACKGROUND/INTRODUCTION

1. Mark Penn and Microsoft

2. Texaco and the Oil and Gas Industry

3. Eli Lilly and the Pharmaceutical/Healthcare Industry

4. Monsanto and the Agricultural Industry

5. Utilities and Energy Industry

6. Securities/Brokerage Industry

7. Labor Rights and Foreign Trade

8. The Banks/Credit Card Industry and the Bankruptcy Bill

9. Lobbyists

10. General Observations on Sen. Clinton's Progressive Scores

CONCLUSIONS


BACKGROUND/INTRODUCTION

David Mizner posted a diary at Daily Kos titled Edwards Blasts Corporate Clinton and her "Karl Rove". He said:

[This has been crossposted from MyDD with the permission of the author, TomP. I wanted to make sure Kossacks saw it, because I believe the most troubling thing about Hillary is her (still underdiscussed) close connection to Corporate Power, including some of its darkest elements.

Even Karl Rove sold his direct mail firm before going to work for the Bush campaign. Mark Penn needs to sell his PR firm. Or Hillary needs to fire him. Or she shouldn't be the nominee. For me, it's that simple. And you?]

One of the interesting articles cited in this diary is this one written earlier this year by Ari Berman in The Nation. I would urge all Democrats to read this article in its entirely because it does reveal Clinton and her campaign in all its complexity. For the purposes of this post, let's focus on this statement by Berman:

Not only is Hillary more reliant on large donations and corporate money than her Democratic rivals, but advisers in her inner circle are closely affiliated with unionbusters, GOP operatives, conservative media and other Democratic Party antagonists.

At face value, that is rather troubling. Yet, the basic question we need to ask to better understand the significance of Berman's accurate observation is whether Sen. Clinton's record in the Senate is in line with the interests of some of these anti-progressive elements.


1. Mark Penn and Microsoft

The most important name that Berman brings up in this article is that of Mark Penn - recently in the news due to Blackwater.

Berman says:

Penn, who had previously worked in the business world for companies like Texaco and Eli Lilly, brought his corporate ideology to the White House. After moving to Washington he aggressively expanded his polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland (PSB). It was said that Penn was the only person who could get Bill Clinton and Bill Gates on the same line. Penn's largest client was Microsoft, and he saw no contradiction between working for both the plaintiff and the defense in what was at the time the country's largest antitrust case. A variety of controversial clients enlisted PSB. The firm defended Procter & Gamble's Olestra from charges that the food additive caused anal leakage, blamed Texaco's bankruptcy on greedy jurors and market-tested genetically modified foods for Monsanto. PSB introduced to consulting the concept of "inoculation": shielding corporations from scandal through clever advertising and marketing.

Since Microsoft was Penn's most famous client back in the Clinton years, let's start this post by making the following observation. Even though Penn was representing Microsoft in his professional life, Bill Clinton's DOJ went after Microsoft very aggresively. So, clearly, the Clintons did not do the bidding of Microsoft despite Microsoft being one of the top clients of Penn (a key advisor to the Clintons).


2. Texaco and the Oil and Gas Industry

Penn's client list included Texaco. How is Sen. Clinton's voting record when it comes to oil companies?

Category

Progressive Punch -
Progressive Score

Corporate Subsidies (Overall)
Corporate Subsidies (Oil/Gas Industry)
Corporate Tax Breaks (General)
Corporate Tax Breaks (Oil & Gas Industry)
Government Checks on Corporate Power (Overall)
Government Checks on Corporate Power (Oil & Gas Industry)

*The reason she did not get 100% is that she voted against an amendment to the legislation to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations, described here.


3. Eli Lilly and the Pharmaceutical/Healthcare Industry

Penn's client list included Eli Lilly. Berman also adds:

Since the healthcare reform disaster of 1993-94, [Sen. Clinton] has rarely stuck her neck out on contentious issues. "She votes the issues that come up, rather than take the leadership role," says Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. "We tried to do too much, too fast twelve years ago," Clinton told the Federation of American Hospitals last year, "and I still have the scars to show for it." She's now the number-one Congressional recipient of donations from the healthcare industry.

Let's first make one correction, via Media Matters:

A Newsday article on Sen. Hillary Clinton's health care reform proposal repeated an assertion made in a 2006 New York Times article that the health care "industry contributed more than $850,000 to her re-election campaign, the second highest level of contributions to any senator." But Newsday did not note that the number includes donations from individual health care professionals, such as nurses and doctors, and neither newspaper reported that if only health care PAC donations were considered -- that is, donations from the actual health care "industry" -- Clinton drops off the list of top 25 congressional recipients of health care industry money entirely.

That said, how is Sen. Clinton's voting record when it comes to pharmaceutical companies and healthcare?

Category
Progressive Punch -
Progressive Score
Corporate Subsidies (Overall)
Corporate Subsidies (Pharmaceutical Industry)
Corporate Tax Breaks (General)
Corporate Tax Breaks (Pharmaceutical Industry)
Government Checks on Corporate Power (Overall)
Government Checks on Corporate Power (Pharmaceutical Industry)
Government Checks on Corporate Power (Doctors)
Government Checks on Corporate Power (Hospitals)
Healthcare
Access to Health Insurance
Aid to the Chronically Ill
Aid to the Disabled
Aid to Veterans
Aid to Seniors


4. Monsanto and the Agricultural Industry

Monsanto was another client of Penn. How is Sen. Clinton's voting record when it comes to large food or agricultural companies?

Category
Progressive Punch Progressive Score
Corporate Subsidies (Overall)
Corporate Subsidies (Agricultural Industry)
Corporate Tax Breaks (General)
Corporate Tax Breaks (Agricultural Industry)
Government Checks on Corporate Power (Overall)
Government Checks on Corporate Power (Agricultural Industry)
Aid to Farmers

I don't have time to go through every industry. So, I will pick a few more examples for emphasis.


5. Utilities and Energy Industry

Berman says:

The massive PR empire WPP Group acquired Penn's polling firm for an undisclosed sum in 2001 and four years later named him worldwide CEO of one of its most prized properties, the PR firm Burson-Marsteller (B-M). A key player in the decision to hire Penn was Howard Paster, President Clinton's chief lobbyist to Capitol Hill and an influential presence inside WPP. "Clients of stature come to Mark constantly for counsel," says Paster, who informally advises Hillary, explaining the hire. The press release announcing Penn's promotion noted his work "developing and implementing deregulation informational programs for the electric utilities industry and in the financial services sector." The release blithely ignored how utility deregulation contributed to the California electricity crisis manipulated by Enron and the blackout of 2003, which darkened much of the Northeast and upper Midwest.

He also has this to add about the nuclear energy industry:

Yet occasionally the work of Penn's company spills onto Hillary's political terrain. Penn's polling firm has worked with the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition--a PR front group for the nuclear power industry--which purports to show "strong support among Americans for nuclear energy." Coincidentally, one of B-M's big projects is the Indian Point nuclear power plant, twenty-four miles north of Manhattan, dubbed by environmentalists "Chernobyl on the Hudson." The plant received the lowest safety rating from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2000, and after 9/11 there were widespread calls from environmentalists, consumer groups and elected officials to shut it down. It has had nine unplanned shutdowns since 2005.

With the help of B-M, Indian Point's owner, Entergy Corporation, struck back with a multipronged ad campaign. Its post-9/11 slogan, "Safe, secure, vital," emphasized security, warning that if Indian Point were closed New York could face a California-style energy crisis. In 2003, after Westchester County legislators passed resolutions condemning Indian Point, B-M set up a classic astroturf group on Entergy's behalf, the Campaign for Affordable Energy, Environmental and Economic Justice, which targeted Democratic incumbents in low-income sections of Westchester who supported closing the plant. If Indian Point were shuttered, the bilingual campaign informed residents, electricity bills would increase, power to public transportation would be jeopardized and dirty power plants would go up in low-income and minority neighborhoods. At the same time, B-M unveiled another organization also bankrolled by Entergy that promoted Indian Point. Following the '06 elections, Entergy unveiled a new slogan, "Right for New York," citing Indian Point as an asset in the fight against global warming. Hillary has called for an "independent safety assessment" but has declined to join Governor Eliot Spitzer and twelve members of Congress in urging that the plant be shut down. Entergy, founded in Arkansas, was a major supporter of Bill Clinton in the 1990s and contributed generously to Hillary in 2000 and 2006.

How is Sen. Clinton's voting record on utilities and energy companies - including nuclear energy companies? (I've included the Oil and Gas industry here since they are technically part of the energy industry).

Category
Progressive Punch Progressive Score
Corporate Subsidies (Overall)
Corporate Subsidies (Oil/Gas Industry)
Corporate Subsidies (Nuclear Industry)
Corporate Tax Breaks (General)
Corporate Tax Breaks (Oil & Gas Industry)
Government Checks on Corporate Power (Overall)
Government Checks on Corporate Power (Oil & Gas Industry)
Environment (Overall)
Renewable Energy
Global Warming

*The reason she did not get 100% is that she voted against an amendment to the legislation to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations, described here.


6. Securities/Brokerage Industry

This is a particularly important industry to consider, since Sen. Clinton's state (NY) is the mecca for this sector.

Category
Progressive Punch Progressive Score
Corporate Subsidies (Overall)
Corporate Subsidies (Securities/Brokerage Industry)
Not Available
Corporate Tax Breaks (General)
Corporate Tax Breaks (Securities/Brokerage Industry)
Not Available
Government Checks on Corporate Power (Overall)
Government Checks on Corporate Power (Securities/Brokerage Industry)

Let's now look at the most prominent areas where Sen. Clinton has come under some criticism from progressives.


7. Labor Rights and Foreign Trade

Three of the most controversial issues when it comes to allegations of Sen. Clinton being a "Corporate Democrat" relate to: Labor Rights and Foreign Trade, the Credit Card industry/Bankruptcy Bill and Lobbyists. Let's tackle those in turn.

Berman:

Black is only one cannon in B-M's Republican arsenal. Its "grassroots" lobbying branch, Direct Impact--which specializes in corporate-funded astroturfing--is run by Dennis Whitfield, a former Reagan Cabinet official, and Dave DenHerder, the political director of the Bush/Cheney '04 campaign in Ohio. That's not all. B-M recently partnered with lobbyist Ed Gillespie, the former head of the Republican National Committee, in creating the new ad firm 360Advantage, run by two admen for the Bush/Cheney campaigns. Its first project was a campaign against "liberal bias" in the media for the neoconservative Weekly Standard magazine.

As expected with such a lineup, B-M has a highly confrontational relationship with organized labor. "Companies cannot be caught unprepared by Organized Labor's coordinated campaigns," read the "Labor Relations" section of its website, describing that branch of the company (the section was altered after The American Prospect quoted it in March).

Back in 2003, two large unions, UNITE (which later merged with the hotel and restaurant union, HERE) and the Teamsters, launched a major drive to organize 32,000 garment workers and truck drivers at Cintas, the country's largest and most profitable uniform and laundry supply company (it posted $3.4 billion in sales and $327 million in profits last year). Its longtime CEO, Richard Farmer, was a mega-fundraising "Pioneer" for George W. Bush. Cintas was sued for overcharging consumers and denying workers overtime pay--it settled both cases out of court--and was ordered by a California superior court to give employees $1.4 million for not paying them a living wage. It has also maintained unsafe working conditions (an employee in Tulsa died recently when caught in a 300-degree dryer) and, according to union officials, has used any means necessary to block the organizing drive. According to worker complaints documented by the unions, management fired employees on false grounds, vowed to close plants and screened antiunion videos. A plant manager in Vista, California, threatened to "kick driver-employees with his steel-toed boots," according to a complaint UNITE HERE filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). To put a soft face on its harsh tactics, Cintas hired Wade Gates, a top employee in B-M's Dallas office, as its chief spokesman. Gates coined Cintas's shrewd response to labor: "the right to say yes, the freedom to say no," which has been repeated endlessly in the press. In a speech at USC Law School last year, he outlined Cintas's strategy, calling for an "aggressive defense against union tactics." Says Ahmer Qadeer, an organizer for UNITE HERE, "It's the Burson influence that's made Cintas much, much slicker than they were." The unions have won two NLRB rulings against Cintas, but for four years the company has continued to resist the organizing campaign. Penn disclaimed any responsibility for B-M's activities before his arrival at the firm, and he told The Nation he has "never personally participated in any antiunion activity," even though B-M's antilabor arm is still operating under his tenure. (Penn added a personal note: "My father was for many years a union organizer in the poultry workers union.")

What did Sen. Clinton do in this situation?

In 2004 Hillary Clinton asked for an investigation into whether Cintas had received preferential regulatory treatment from the Environmental Protection Agency in return for giving large political donations to President Bush. Union officials say she's been supportive of their organizing drive. She's a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would let workers form unions if a majority sign cards authorizing representation, thus avoiding coercion and intimidation during union election campaigns (Cintas bitterly opposes the EFCA). She told the International Association of Firefighters recently, "I believe that it is absolutely essential to the way America works that people be given the right to organize and bargain collectively."

Hillary apparently sees no contradiction between her advocacy and the antiunion work of her chief strategist's company. "Clearly not," says spokesman Wolfson. "I don't think it reflects on her at all. Mark's work away from the campaign is Mark's work, and his campaign work is separate from that."

Here's Sen. Clinton's voting record when it comes to Labor Rights and Foreign Trade.

Category
Progressive Punch Progressive Score
Labor Rights (Overall)
Aid to Workers Negatively Impacted Upon by International Trade Agreements
General Union Rights
Outsourcing of American Jobs Overseas
Pension Protections
Preventing Workers' Rights from Being Eroded by International Trade Agreements
Rights of Individuals in the Workplace
Rights of Public Employees
Aid to The Unemployed

* The 67% rating is based on Sen. Clinton's vote on a particular, somewhat confusing amendment - see here for details.

It's also instructive to look at how the AFL-CIO and SEIU - two of the most premier labor unions in this country - rated Sen. Clinton's Senate record. According to the AFL-CIO, Sen. Clinton voted for the pro-labor position 93% of the time. The SEIU rated Sen. Clinton's pro-labor record as follows: 100% for 2003, 100% for 2004, 100% for 2005, 94% for 2006, and 90% for 2007-to-date.


8. The Banks/Credit Card Industry and the Bankruptcy Bill

This is one of the most controversial issues for Sen. Clinton.

Katharine Seelye wrote this recently in her blog at the NYT:

Mrs. Clinton has a mixed record on the bankruptcy bill, which wended its way through Congress over the course of several years, and on fighting the banks, which are a major constituency and major source of campaign contributions in New York.

[...]

As first lady, Mrs. Clinton worked against the bill. She helped kill one version of it, then another version passed, which her husband vetoed. As a senator, in 2001, she voted for it, but it did not pass. When it came up again in 2005, she missed the vote because her husband was in the hospital, although she indicated she would have opposed it.

Matt Stoller added this on MyDD:

A commenter pointed out that [Sen. Clinton] voted against cloture in 2005, so it's fairly likely she would have voted against the 2005 bill.

According to Progressive Punch, Senator Clinton's Progressive Score on the issue of Government Checks on Corporate Power (Banks/Credit Card Companies) is 82%. This is entirely because she missed a close vote on the Bankruptcy Bill on March 10, 2005. However, Sen. Clinton voted the progressive position on numerous amendments to the Bill and on the motion to invoke cloture on the Bill, prior to March 10, 2005.

So, it is fair to say Sen. Clinton's history on this is mixed. However, based on her latest votes in 2005, I am inclined to believe that she has learnt that the Bankruptcy Bill was terrible and that she does not support something like this. I feel better about this assessment since she receives a 97% progressive score from Progressive Punch on the issue of Consumer Protection.


9. Lobbyists

Sen. Clinton has also taken quite a bit of flak for her immensely misguided statement about lobbyists and her controversial embrace of lobbyists. Tabulated below are her Progressive Punch scores on lobbyists, campaign finance, etc. The dataset here appears to be limited but I'm reproducing the available data from Progressive Punch.

Category
Progressive Punch Progressive Score
Government Checks on Corporate Power (Lobbyists)
Campaign Finance Reform
Lobbying Reform and Government Transparency
Right to Government Information


10. General Observations on Sen. Clinton's Progressive Scores

Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) - a progressive group - gives Sen. Clinton the following ratings:

  • 95% in 2006
  • 100% in 2005
  • 95% in 2004
  • 95% in 2003
  • 95% in 2002 (her Iraq vote was the one that prevented the 100% rating)
  • 95% in 2001.

Progressive Punch gives Sen. Clinton an overall progressive score of 92% to date. The only rated issues where she falls below 85-90% are War and Peace (80%) and Human Rights and Civil Liberties (82%). This is unsurprisng. Sen. Clinton gets most of her criticism for her Iraq war vote and her hawkishness on the topics of national security and wars. That said, she has come a long way from 2002 and in the last few months she has adopted a generally more progressive direction on these issues (even though she is still getting criticism for some positions like her vote on the Kyl-Lieberman Iran bill and her lack of clarity on how many residual troops she plans to station in Iraq if she becomes President).

According to the AFL-CIO, Sen. Clinton voted for the pro-labor position 93% of the time.

The SEIU rated Sen. Clinton's pro-labor record as follows: 100% for 2003, 100% for 2004, 100% for 2005, 94% for 2006, and 90% for 2007-to-date.


CONCLUSIONS

This post examined the allegation that Sen. Hillary Clinton is a "Corporate Democrat" - namely, a person who is beholden to "Corporate America" and who is more likely to support "corporate interests" as President than the interests of average or middle-class Americans.

1. I find that the existing evidence, based on her Senatorial voting records compiled by Progressive Punch, Americans for Democratic Action, AFL-CIO and SEIU, does not really support this allegation.

2. Indeed, the evidence suggests that Sen. Clinton's voting patterns are substantially and surprisingly progressive (ranging typically from 90-100%), including on corporate or labor issues. There are certainly serious issues where Sen. Clinton has unfortunately taken anti-progressive positions (e.g., her vote for a version of the Bankruptcy Bill in 2001), but the data reviewed here suggests that overall, she is far more progressive than corporatist.

3. In the absence of additional or new data, I have to conclude that the label "Corporate Democrat", as applied to her, is inappropriate and extraordinarily misleading. In other words, while it is true that she has strong links to corporate America and corporatist interests, there is little or no evidence that she systematically votes in lock-step with those interests or even significantly in line with their positions. There are a few plausible reasons why Sen. Clinton has continued to build links with opposing corporatist or conservative interests.

  • In general, it may be beneficial to have people on one's staff or payroll who represent opposing viewpoints - in order to make sure that nuances or different perspectives on issues get a proper hearing before final decisions are made on policies. Everything I've heard or read from people like former Ambassador Joseph Wilson or General Wesley Clark suggests that Sen. Clinton usually makes an effort to understand every issue very thoroughly before making up her mind on her position.
  • It is usually beneficial to have (reasonable) people on one's staff or payroll who will provide you insight into how your policies or positions are likely to be attacked by opponents in the public sphere - whether the opponents are corporatist interests or conservatives bloviating on the vast Republican misinformation machine. Given Senator Clinton's unpleasant experiences in the 1990s, it would not surprise me if this is one of the motivations for her connections with (or outreach to) those representing opposing interests.
  • Senator Clinton is sometimes attacked for being "polarizing" by the same people who invented this aspect of her personality because of their hatred for her. It is plausible, therefore, that she might try to assuage such concerns in the minds of low information voters by building links to those on the other side of the aisle. To some extent, this is similar to Sen. Obama's outreach to odious Republicans like Tom Coburn, although the motivations may sometimes be different.

4. Not surprisingly, outside of corporate or labor issues, Sen. Clinton's progressive scores take a small but non-trivial dip to the neighborhood of 80% on the topics of national security and war. This topic is not examined in this post.

5. The results discussed here should not in any way be interpreted as signifying an endorsement of her or of her practice of keeping unethical people like Mark Penn on her payroll (a practice that I find hard to understand or rationalize). I sincerely hope Sen. Clinton will reconsider having Penn on her payroll.

ENDNOTE: I should add that this assessment does not take into account Sen. Clinton's public statements on these matters that may or may not match her voting records. However, since I tend to believe that at the end of the day actions speak louder than words, I believe using her Senate voting records for this assessment is reasonable.

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