IN AN OP-ED Sunday for the Des Moines Register, Hillary Clinton writes that this presidential campaign “isn’t going to be about me, it’s going to be about Iowans and people across the country who are ready for a better future.”
She has it backward. Right now, the campaign is all about Clinton and how the country views her. Until she flips that equation, she can’t run the campaign she wants to run.
Polling shows voters think of Clinton as a leader, but she has a perpetual trust problem. In a recent Quinnipiac poll of three swing states, the view of whether Clinton is honest and trustworthy ranged from 38 percent in Colorado to 40 percent in Virginia and 43 percent in Iowa. That was when the trust question came up in connection with the way Clinton kept her e-mails while she was secretary of state. Trust becomes a bigger issue if she continues to ignore the cascade of headlines about the multi-millions flowing into the Clinton Foundation, founded by former President Bill Clinton as a vehicle for philanthropy.
As a New York Times editorial points out, “nothing illegal has been alleged about the foundation.” But as the editorial also notes, the flow of dollars from a vast array of donors, including some foreign countries, raises questions about conflicts of interest Clinton faced as secretary of state and would continue to face as president. “The only plausible answer is full and complete disclosure of all sources of money going to the foundation,” concluded the Times. “And the foundation needs to reinstate the ban on donations from foreign governments for the rest of her campaign.”
Common Cause is also calling for an independent audit of donations to the foundation.
Surrogates, including Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, are defending the candidate. But the candidate is the one who has to take this on.
She’s the only who can say there was never any quid pro quo — but she hasn’t. As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin noted on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “I think what still boggles the mind, why doesn’t Hillary deal with this herself right now? I think she has to answer this herself.”
Noting that Republican Mitt Romney said the influx of money to the foundation “looks like bribery,” Goodwin said, Clinton “can’t let that charge stand.” Yet she has.
The clamor for disclosure follows a complicated news story reported by the Times about money flowing into the Clinton Foundation from a Canadian company — Uranium One — that was being taken over by a Russian firm while the Canadian company had business before the State Department. According to the Times, the Clinton Foundation did not report donations totaling $2.35 million that were made to it by Uranium One’s chairman. The sale of Uranium One ultimately gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States.
In response, the Clinton campaign said it was “utterly baseless” to suggest Clinton, who was then secretary of state, “exerted undue influence in the US government’s review of the sale.”
However, the Clinton Foundation has also acknowledged that mistakes were made in how donors were disclosed, and steps are being taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Clinton may be thinking it’s too early for most voters to be tuning into the upcoming presidential election, and that the money flow into the Clinton Foundation is too complicated for average people to care about anyway. There’s also a lot of competition for attention these days — from Bruce Jenner’s announcement that he is transitioning to a woman to the devastating earthquake that rocked Nepal. When voters finally do focus on the presidential contest, some commentators, like Paul Krugman of the Times, also believe that ideological divisions between Democrats and Republicans will decide the 2016 election — not personality issues.
But trust falls into a category of its own. It cuts deeper than personality. With the Clintons, the trust questions go back decades. The model for how to confront them can be found in Bill Clinton’s first presidential run in 1992. He took the charges on directly, whether they were about pot-smoking, draft-dodging, or extramarital affairs. His explanations didn’t end the doubts, but at least he respected the voters enough to face the doubters.
If she wants her campaign to be about the voters, Hillary Clinton should too.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.
• Editorial: Democrats need Elizabeth Warren’s voice in 2016
• Dan Wasserman: Hillary Clinton’s 2016 focus
• Scot Lehigh: Clinton brings to mind Walter Mondale
• Joan Vennochi: Quilt of Clinton’s life made up of many patches