Greasing the Outstretched Hands

Donald Trump with his tangled business dealings is a walking conflict of interest, but Hillary Clinton’s connections to the world of high finance and political pull creates its own problems with outstretched palms, writes Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

The recipe could not be simpler. Mix cynicism with greed, quickly stir and voila! American politics and government served up on a platter to the highest bidder.

Call it low cuisine. And it doesn’t get any lower than what we’ve seen during this wretched campaign season — a presidential contest that, as one friend in Washington recently said, pits “the unethical versus the unhinged.”

Mr. Moneybags from the "Monopoly" game

Mr. Moneybags from the “Monopoly” game

Psychiatric evaluations notwithstanding, for sure each of the two candidates is the byproduct of crony capitalism run amok. Donald Trump started out boasting that his much-flaunted wealth meant that he could self-fund his campaign and that this made him incorruptible, a feckless notion that went flying out the window as soon as he became the presumptive, official party nominee and went running to fat cat funders with his diminutive hands out.

As The Washington Post’s Matea Gold reported Sept. 1, “The New York billionaire, who has cast himself as free from the influence of the party’s donor class, has spent this summer forging bonds with wealthy GOP financiers — seeking their input on how to run his campaign and recast his policies for the general election, according to more than a dozen people who have participated in the conversations.”

And let’s not get started on the wacky world of Trump’s actual finances, his bragging about using cash to buy political favors, his failure to release tax returns, his dodgy connections with overseas banks, Russian plutocrats and organized crime. “It is safe to say,” The New York Times recently reported, “that no previous major party presidential nominee has had finances nearly as complicated.”

Now there’s a classic Times understatement for you. It continues:

“As president, Mr. Trump would have substantial sway over monetary and tax policy, as well as the power to make appointments that would directly affect his own financial empire. He would also wield influence over legislative issues that could have a significant impact on his net worth, and would have official dealings with countries in which he has business interests.”

Clinton Standards

What a swell idea to put him in charge. Not that Hillary Clinton and husband Bill are polestars of virtue. They seem to have gone out of their way to favor the wealthy and make sure they themselves always have a well-upholstered seat at the groaning banquet table of foundation, government and political largesse.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. (Photo by Lorie Shaull, Wikipedia)

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. (Photo by Lorie Shaull, Wikipedia)

There’s plenty of history here. Back in the day, in many ways Bill Clinton was the most helpful president the rich have had since Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan and John D. Rockefeller bankrolled William McKinley’s 1900 campaign and had their own bought-and-paid-for pal in the White House.

Harken back to 1993, the first of William Jefferson Clinton’s eight years in office. An alleged reform was passed that in reality contained one of the best escape clauses ever. The White House capped the tax deductibility of CEO compensation at $1 million, theoretically to cut down on runaway executive salaries. Good idea.

But raise my rent, look here – there was a loophole large enough to drive a fleet of Brink’s trucks through. Banks could still deduct stuff like stock options, cash bonuses and other kinds of “performance pay.” So compensation could run wild — and did. Wall Street’s fat cats got enormous raises at the expense of the rest of us poor suckers, er, taxpayers.

When we staggered into financial freefall in 2008, the Clinton-era loophole was closed until the banks paid off what they owed for the massive government bailout. As a result, the banks rushed to pay the debt back at an unseemly fast rate, even as mortgage holders lost their homes and millions their jobs. Once they paid what they owed, the good times rolled even bigger and louder for the rich and comfy bankers of Wall Street. And taxpayers paid the price for the financial industry’s massive write-offs.

In a shocking new report from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), “The Wall Street CEO Bonus Loophole,” co-authors Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigatti write, “The more US corporations hand out in CEO bonuses, the less they pay in taxes. … After getting out from under the bailout limits on deducting executive compensation, the top 20 US banks paid out more than $2 billion in fully deductible performance bonuses to their top five executives between 2012 and 2015. At a 35-percent corporate tax rate, this translates into a taxpayer subsidy worth more than $725 million over the four-year period, or $1.7 million per executive per year on average.”

Cashing In

The leading culprit was Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf: “Between 2012 and 2015, years in which the bank faced $10.4 billion in misconduct penalties, Stumpf pocketed more than $155 million in fully deductible performance pay. This works out to $54 million in tax subsidies for Wells Fargo — just for one man’s bonuses.” And this at a time when the bank was holding some 85,000 mortgage loans in foreclosure.

JP Morgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon. (Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson)

JP Morgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon. (Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson)

Many of the other bank CEOs, the men we’ve come to love to hate — and big-dollar contributors to the Clinton Foundation and various Clinton campaigns — also make an appearance in the IPS report. Jamie Dimon of the nation’s largest bank JPMorgan Chase — the fellow said to Barack Obama’s favorite banker — “cashed in $22.9 million in stock options in February and March 2010, at the peak of the foreclosure crisis.”

Then there’s Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, the man infamous for telling the Times of London in 2009 that his bank was “doing God’s work,” head of the very same gang that gave Hillary Clinton those big six-figure lecture fees you’ve heard about.

According to the IPS report, “The value of Goldman Sachs stock has never regained the value it enjoyed in the heady days before the market?slide, and so all of Blankfein’s $28.9 million in deductible performance bonuses were cashed in before the bank’s?longtime shareholders were out of the red.”?Sweet.

Sarah Anderson of IPS says, “Taxpayers should not have to subsidize excessive CEO bonuses at any firm… [S]uch subsidies are particularly troubling when they prop up a pay system that encourages the reckless behavior which caused one devastating national crisis — and could cause more in the future.”

Hillary Clinton has claimed she wants to get rid of the deductible performance pay loophole, but there are several bills out there that would do the job and so far she hasn’t endorsed any of them. Why would she when she already relies so heavily on the counsel — and campaign cash — of many of these bank CEOs and their elite associates at law firms and corporations?

So far, close to half a billion dollars have been raised for her campaign, $50 million alone during the last two weeks of August at 22 fundraisers. According to The New York Times, that’s an average of $150,000 an hour.

The Bill Factor

It’s all part of a long tradition going back to Bill and beyond. And despite the objections of those who say there’s no evidence of a direct link between money given and favors granted, remember: It’s not just about the quid pro quo. It’s about the web of influence, the nod to the insider, the guy who knows a guy who knows a guy.

President Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton

We are dealing, Ryan Grim and Daniel Marans recently wrote at The Huffington Post, with “a worldwide capitalistic system in which oligarchs, corporate CEOs and celebrity heads of state mingle to form a global elite that dictates a global agenda. This can sometimes take the form of quid pro quos, but it is more often a subtle form of exchange, in which exclusion from or inclusion within an elite club depends as much on whom you know as the size of the check you can write. … The Clintons did not create this system, but they have become central players within it.”

Which brings me around to a study from two Dutch political scientists, Bastiaan van Apeldoorn and Nana de Graaff, who took a look at the key policymaking personnel in the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

“Grand strategy makers” — GSM — that’s what the researchers call them. According to Paul Street at the Truthdig website, they found that “23 (more than 70 percent) of Obama’s top 30 GSMs had ‘top-level corporate affiliations’ — executive, director, senior adviser or partner in a law firm — prior to their appointment to the U.S. executive branch.

“These 23 were linked through a combination of board memberships, executive positions and advisory roles to 111 corporations. These ‘affiliations in many cases display a revolving door pattern, indicating that the actors are not just closely tied to but actually themselves members of the corporate elite.’”

Seventy percent of George W. Bush’s GSMs were linked to 87 corporations and 60 percent of Bill Clinton’s were linked to 48.

If you wonder why inequality grew under Bill Clinton, Bush and Obama, all the numbers in the paragraphs above are some of the reasons. Capital holds a privileged status over labor, and CEOs are exalted over employees.

How can you be sure a Hillary Clinton White House will be any different? Given all the evidence, given the billions of dollars in play, you can’t.

But here’s one hopeful sign: Politico reports, “Sen. Elizabeth Warren and her allies aren’t waiting for Election Day: Months before the votes have been counted, they’re already exerting pressure on Hillary Clinton’s transition team over key hiring decisions… They’re vowing to fight nominees with ties to big banks, and warn against corporate executives assuming government roles in regulating the industries that made them rich.”

Warren believes “personnel is policy.” She and her colleagues have reserved an especially hot place for the Wall Street big shots and corporate nabobs who fancy a job in the Clinton administration. It’s called the “Hell No” list.

Attention must be paid to that list or with a Clinton back in office it’s four more dreary years of greased palms and the status quo. That could be a recipe for disaster almost but not quite as horrific as an egotistical know-nothing with his fingers in the piggy bank and worse, near the button.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This article originally appeared at]

14 comments for “Greasing the Outstretched Hands

  1. Secret Agent
    September 11, 2016 at 23:33

    Bullshit story. Dozens of reporters from the major outlets have examined every aspect of trumps dealings and have turned up a few specks of dirt. At he same time Hillary has been given a pass.

    But even though nothing important has been found, Trump has been successfully smeared by the MSM and gullible outlets like Consortium News that repeat the garbage allegations that Trumps business dealings are somehow dishonest, without providing a shred of credible evidence.

    The real problem with Trump is that The American oligarchy fears him because he will not swear fealty as Hillary has done. That’s all. There’s nothing more to it. It there was, we would be presented facts instead of bullshit.

  2. Evangelista
    September 10, 2016 at 20:34

    In a rare moment of lucidity Michael Winship wrote: “…with a Clinton back in office it’s four more dreary years of greased palms and the status quo.”

    He compares that potentiality to the alternative of “…an egotistical know-nothing with his fingers in the piggy bank and worse, near the button.”

    There is no question that the second alternative is the preferable: With a status quo there would be no questioning. No one would ask how, from a clearly defined in the Constitution start of division of powers and stated, implied and directly indicated purpose to impose check and balance, through three very differently constituted, differenctly filled and overlappingly empowered branches of government, the present United States has come to a point where a single elected executive may, himself, without check or balance, stick his fingers in “the piggy bank” and over “the button”.

    But with what may be, or only may appear “an egotistical know-nothing” in the Executive position, there will be, beyond any question or doubt, a myriad who will question. Elizabeth Warren will not have to round up supporters to help her watch-dog, she will have a throng, and all volunteers.

    With a President Trump we will suddenly have a sudden upwellling of questioners. We will have people and politicians and pundits and on and on who will suddenly be suddenly remembering that there is supposed to be check and balance, that no one party, or one branch of our United States bovernment is supposed to have sole or dictatorial decision-making powers.

    All that short-cutting “for efficiency” that has given “executive powers” to presidents like Bush Two and Obama powers to do what their masters ordered them to will suddenly have to be “revisited” and “reconsidered” before it can be allowed into the hands of someone not a nodding bumpkin or a wind-up and drive by wire drone. Suddenly it will be remembered that “Executive Orders” are not imperial dictations, but orders like restaurant orders, which, if the kitchens of Congress aren’t ready to produce don’t appear on the orderer’s table. Suddenly it will be remembered that launchings of attacks require a war, and wars require deliberations and declarations, in which ‘attacks’ that may be proposed, including nuclear, must be shown to be counter-attacks, answers against aggressions.

    In simple phrase: Elect Trump, see the Constitution rediscovered. Elect Hillary, see the gangster elite and their cohorts of gangster enforcers continue to ignore all law, including that of the Constitution, except what they have just made up for the instant occasion.

    There is no doubt that Trump is qualified to fill the Office of President of the United States: There are no requirements for ego or intelligence, real or imagined. There are, instead, requirements for check and balance.

    It is for check and balance that it has always been possible to say, “Anyone can become President of the United States.”

    Elect Donald Trump and start some discussion. And save the cost of having to put bars on the windows and doors in the White House.

  3. Bill
    September 10, 2016 at 10:34

    There are four candidates on most ballots. As long as you cast a Trump/Clinton vote, you perpetuate a broken, corrupt system. The Establishment will win no matter what you do; the Establishment wants you to think that your vote matters. You need to leave this abusive relationship even if it means going out of your comfort zone.

  4. Wobblie
    September 9, 2016 at 17:41

    What are governments for?

    Liberals and Conservative would sacrifice their children to support their corporate politicians. That’s not hyperbole.

  5. Joe Tedesky
    September 9, 2016 at 14:46

    It’s Friday, and since the weekend is upon us, here is a crazy thought, or a plausible forecast of possible things yet to come; so between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren let’s say they keep turning up the heat on Hillary Clinton, and this really boils Hillary to no end. Our one time Goldwater gal takes all that she can take until she gets fed up to her ears with Sanders and Warren, and due to the betterment of our country’s National Security (because it’s always what’s good for our National Security) Hillary quits the Democrate Party. I know this will never happen, but if Trump loses (and he probably will, because he doesn’t tow the line enough for the Wall St. Oligarchs) the Republican Party will be out interviewing new potential Republican leaders….Hillary would be their best choice, by far. I know this will never happened, but I would not be surprised for if Hillary will garner more love and support from Neoconservatives and Wall St. Republicans enough that she might as well be considered one of their own. Besides all of my kidding prediction, America doesn’t really have but one party working the strings of our government, and this will one day prove to be America’s greatest failing.

    I’m leaving a decent article which describes how Russia was economically ruined during the Yeltsin Clinton years, and why any normal Russian would not be looking forward to America having another Clinton in the White House again.

  6. lynne gillooly
    September 9, 2016 at 12:57

    This election is so unique.
    Yes, Mrs. Clinton has ties to Wall St. and her Husband’s Presidency brought in a climate of triangulation, corporate friendly trade deals etc. Normally that would be a concern, but since our other choice is a know nothing, egotistical, lying bully she needs to win in November. I am hopeful that Mrs. Warren and Bernie can put pressure on her to stand up for workers and average citizens. She is also very smart, experienced, strong and prepared. Trump is none of these things.
    To me, he is an existential threat to this country. Hopefully he loses and no one this unqualified ever gets to this point again. Both parties better wake up and start representing their citizens. We all know who they have been representing for the last 35 yrs. If they do not wake up another Trump like figure will arise.

    • Bill Bodden
      September 9, 2016 at 14:10

      I am hopeful that Mrs. Warren and Bernie can put pressure on her to stand up for workers and average citizens.

      I don’t wish to be cruel, lynne, but this statement suggests you are being very naive. Crushing progressives or any other element from the left has been a long and merciless tradition of the Democratic Party’s oligarchy. Among the more recent examples consider how Obama, on behalf of the party’s oligarchs, abandoned the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in its struggle against the anti-union Governor Scott Walker.

      She is also very smart, experienced, strong and prepared.

      So were Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and Pinochet. The Clintons have been associated with wars and regime changes in the service of the plutocracy since early in their dual presidency – The Balkans, Iraq Sanctions, War on Iraq, and regime changes in Honduras, Libya and Syria – all with disastrous consequences for the people of those unfortunate nations. Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state for the Clintons, said of the estimated half million Iraqi children who died because of the sanctions imposed on Iraq during their administration, “We thought it was worth it.” We would have included co-president Hillary.Clinton”

    • Joe Tedesky
      September 9, 2016 at 15:02

      Lynne, with all due respect, if you need to depend on two senators to keep your presidential pick straight, then what kind of vote is that? That would be the equivalent of voting for Trump, and hoping by God that McConnell and Ryan would keep Donald on the up and up. If I gave you a hungry Lion instead of a awkward gorilla to replace fluffy the pet kitten, but I guaranteed that the killer Lion came with a lion tamer, would that make you feel anymore safe? If you must vote for Hillary, then vote for what she represents and what she promises, and not because she has liberal valued handlers standing on the sidelines waiting to keep her in line. Lynne the choices are bad, and I understand your angst, but seriously if you can’t have faith in your presidential pick, then why even vote at all? Good luck with your decision, and I’m not being cynical I’m being sincere….JT

    • Gregory Herr
      September 10, 2016 at 10:29

      So the Bushes, Clintons, and Obama represent “qualification”? Qualification is meaningless as compared to deeds. The caricature of Trump or a “Trump-like figure” as something to fear as compared to the reality of past & present Executives is a shell game.
      Mr. Winship, the provocations that could lead to unsavory fingers near “the button” are clearly more likely from Clinton rather than Trump. Why is it that an actual record of malevolence combined with the company she keeps is unconsidered? Is it just so much more fun to join the hyperventilation of supposed Trumpian insanity?
      Sure Trump can be a bit buffoonish, but the actual performance of Clinton is truly outlandish, truly malevolent, and yes, criminal, if not criminally insane.
      Clinton won’t need Warren for much longer…she has her “base,” the have-mores and the warmongers.

      • Roger
        September 14, 2016 at 06:23

        Well said: both of them have money soaked hands, but that’s the american dream the country has been persuaded to worship. The self made man. You are what you own. Mine’s bigger than yours.
        However the Clinton is dripping in blood, likes it, and seems to want more.

  7. Oz
    September 9, 2016 at 12:50

    I agree generally, but don’t knock William McKinley. He wanted to build a rail network that would have connected every nation in North and South America; that’s an enlightened policy, similar to what China is doing today with One Belt, One Road. There’s a reason why McKinley was assassinated — that doesn’t happen to bad presidents.

    • Bill Bodden
      September 9, 2016 at 15:56

      McKinley’s efforts to build a railroad network serving Canada and Central and South America were probably promoted by the railroad corporations that had already exploited Congress and the farmers and merchants across the United States and who saw more similar opportunities to the north and south. McKinley was, however, more successful in his efforts to expand the American empire that included the rigged Spanish-American War and the colonization of the Philippines.

  8. Bill Bodden
    September 9, 2016 at 12:34

    Mix cynicism with greed, quickly stir and voila! American politics and government served up on a platter to the highest bidder.

    It was ever thus and ever will be as long as the people of the United States fail to live up to their responsibilities as citizens.

    • J'hon Doe II
      September 9, 2016 at 12:44


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