Penn spreads the blame around

The former chief strategist for Hillary Clinton's campaign has borne the brunt of the criticism in her loss, but he's not ready to admit his role.

Published June 12, 2008 5:51PM (EDT)

GQ has a very long interview with Mark Penn, the former chief strategist for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. It's, as I said, long, but most of it makes for an interesting read, especially because in it you see Penn turning into a sort of Doug Feith character. Widely blamed for much of what went wrong with Clinton's run for the presidency, Penn lashes out against his former foes in the Clinton campaign, and he's not entirely convincing.

As he has before, Penn says Clinton's loss was largely a result of fundraising failures, a neat way to shift blame from himself (he wasn't responsible for that end) and onto some of his old enemies. He says the campaign was supposed to have saved $25 million for use after the Iowa caucuses, but when it came time, the money wasn't there. He blames that on a failure of organization, saying, "I was head of a team of message people, but not of the political organization, the resource allocation. If I did something wrong, it was not having reset the organization in a way that could be functional, to deal with some of the problems that later occurred. And I would have had to say -- and I came very close to this a number of times -- that this organization, you know, doesn't work."

So where had the Clinton campaign's money gone? Well, a nice chunk of it had gone to Penn's firm. In April, when Penn stepped down as chief strategist, Salon's Mike Madden reported that the campaign finance reports available at that time, which detailed the campaign's finances through February, showed that Penn's firm had received almost 9 percent of all the money spent by the Clinton campaign. When the GQ reporter interviewing him pointed out that quite a bit of the Clinton campaign's money went to his firm, Penn excused it away, saying "85 percent of the work has been for direct mail, of which almost all that is postage and printing and all that." (Of course, as Madden also pointed out, "consultants typically take a percentage of the money a candidate spends on whatever service it is they provide. Media consultants make more whenever they convince their clients they need to cut another ad, pollsters make a profit on each survey, and so on.")

There's much more. If you're looking for another take in all the postmortems of the Clinton campaign, it's worth reading, but I'd suggest taking what Penn has to say with a grain of salt.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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