Hillary Clinton was the first 2016 candidate to discloser her list of bundlers, shorthand for lobbyists who raise cash for candidates and are normally rewarded with ambassadorships or other considerations. She currently has 159 of these bundlers, and giving journalists plenty of names to scrutinize. As the Huffington Post reported when she released the list of names:
One notable bundler is Gordon Giffin, a former lobbyist for the Canadian company working to build the Keystone XL pipeline. Giffin is also on the board of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, which paid Clinton $990,000 for speeches she gave immediately before announcing her presidential campaign.
Today, Lee Fang at The Intercept reported that a number of these bundlers are either lobbyists for or lawyers hired by lobbyists for the private prison industry.
Richard Sullivan, of the lobbying firm Capitol Counsel, is a bundler for the Clinton campaign, bringing in $44,859 in contributions in a few short months. Sullivan is also a registered lobbyist for Geo Group, a company that operates a number of jails, including immigrant detention centers, for profit.
As we reported yesterday, fully five Clinton bunders work for the lobbying and law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. The Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in America, paid Akin Gump $240,000 in lobbying fees last year. The firm also serves as a law firm for the prison giant, representing the company in court.
Akin Gump lobbyist and Clinton bundler Brian Popper disclosed that he previously helped Corrections Corporation defeat efforts to compel private prisons to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests.
Given Hillary Clinton’s record on criminal justice, the funds coming from the private prison industry are hardly surprising. Clinton championed her husband’s tough-on-crime agenda in the early ’90s, advocating “three strikes and you’re out” sentencing laws and larger police forces. As Fang noted, Clinton has made a number of moves to the left on a number of criminal justice issues since launching her 2016 bid, but recently indicated that she is willing to crack down on “sanctuary cities,” a move that would lead to more immigrants detained in the very private prisons that are raising money for her campaign.
Those prisons are likely to lobby a President Clinton heavily in opposition to any changes to our nation’s criminal justice or immigration systems. As Fang highlighted:
Geo Group, in a disclosure statement for their investors, notes that their business could be “adversely affected by changes in existing criminal or immigration laws, crime rates in jurisdictions in which we operate, the relaxation of criminal or immigration enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction, sentencing or deportation practices, and the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws or the loosening of immigration laws.”
Keep in mind, this is an entirely different kind of fundraising tie than it would be if a lot of people who happened to work in the private prison industry went online and submitted independent donations to the Clinton campaign. As bundlers, these private prison lobbyists are, for all intents and purposes, parts of Clinton’s campaign infrastructure. They aren’t just hoping for a return on their investment; they’re expecting one.
Ties like these are one of the reasons why the meta-debate within the progressive movement about Bernie Sanders and economic progressivism’s relative exclusion of voices of color is so frustrating. The progressive movement spent the beginning of this week locked in a Very Serious Debate over whether Sanders has a race problem, while Hillary Clinton was able to avoid any serious criticism about her record on racial justice by writing #BlackLivesMatter in a Facebook post. So, yes, Sanders needs to change his style to be a better around the margins, but his slip-up at Netroots pales in comparison to Clinton’s active attempts to raise money from an industry that profits from perpetuating institutional racism.
By cheering Clinton’s rhetorical nod to the social justice movement and ignoring her ties to industries that directly undercut it, we are effectively telling her that talk isn’t cheap; it’s clearly valuable enough to buy our sympathies.