The Hillary Clinton cash-grab: An early look at the already ugly infighting among Clinton insiders

Clinton's campaign hasn't even started, and the jockeying for influence among operatives is already nauseating

Published February 10, 2015 8:28PM (EST)

  (AP/Susan Walsh)
(AP/Susan Walsh)

Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential run is a couple of things. The first, and perhaps least important of those things, depending on who you are, is an opportunity to get Hillary Clinton elected the 45th and first woman president of the United States. Hurrah hurrah, etc. The second thing is a tremendous cash-grab for professional fundraisers, consultants and operatives within the Democratic party. There is just so much money to be had out there by positioning one's self or enterprise adjacent to Hillary Clinton. The effort is going to be a multibillion dollar pass-through for Democratic politicos. The idea that Ohio voters will need to see even more political ads than they did in 2012 is the air that fills this bubble.

Everybody wants some Hillary money, and everybody will get some Hillary money. It would be easiest for everyone who wants to get in on the money to cartelize and divvy up the proceeds, peacefully and without drama, in support of the common goal of getting super rich with the possible byproduct of Hillary Clinton winning the presidential election.

But: ha ha. These are the biggest egos in the Democratic party. The fact that there are already so many groups out there -- Ready for Hillary, Priorities USA, American Bridge, to name a few -- essentially doing the same thing, months before Hillary Clinton "makes her decision," is a good sign that the 2016 operation will not be the neat, well organized, drama-free alternative to 2008's mess. That there's hundreds of millions or even billions more dollars swirling around now than there was in 2008 pretty much guarantees that this will be a hot mess.

And that an ego like David Brock is centrally involved in the process means that ugly stories like these will pop up about every two seconds, starting... [checks watch]... yesterday:

David Brock on Monday abruptly resigned from the board of the super PAC Priorities USA Action, revealing rifts that threaten the big-money juggernaut being built to support Hillary Clinton’s expected presidential campaign.

In a resignation letter obtained by POLITICO, Brock, a close Clinton ally, accused Priorities officials of planting “an orchestrated political hit job” against his own pro-Clinton groups, American Bridge and Media Matters.

Those groups — along with another pro-Clinton group, the super PAC Ready for Hillary — had their fundraising practices called into question last week by a New York Times report. It pointed out that veteran Democratic fundraiser Mary Pat Bonner got a 12.5 percent commission on funds she raised for Brock’s groups and a smaller percentage commission on cash she raised for Ready for Hillary.

In his letter to the co-chairs of Priorities’ board — former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina — Brock alleged that “current and former Priorities officials were behind this specious and malicious attack on the integrity of these critical organizations.”

David Brock sure knows how to wield an over-the-top adjective in the service of himself. Let's try to give a more sober, brief explanation of what's going on here.

There was, indeed, a story in the New York Times about how Mary Pat Bonner, a Democratic fundraiser who contracts with Brock's groups, takes her fees in the form of a 12.5 percent commission on all funds raised. This form of compensation, instead of a flat fee, is allegedly frowned upon and may come as a surprise to big-dollar donors. ("It is considered unethical by the Association of Fundraising Professionals," as the Times puts it.) But you could also argue that Bonner can get away with it because she's such a prolific fundraiser.

In any case, Brock determined that Priorities USA, a super PAC that Brock merely sits on the board of but doesn't run, planted the story in the Times to shift more of that sweet, sweet Clinton money into its own pile and away from the Brock-led groups. "The public airing of dirty laundry," Politico writes, "comes as sources say Priorities is struggling to live up to the hopes of some Clinton allies, who had argued it should aim to raise as much as $500 million to eviscerate prospective Clinton rivals in the primary and general elections."

It's funny how expectations change. Priorities USA could be considered "struggling" because it may not be on track to raise $500 million. The Clinton juggernaut -- the campaign and all affiliated outside groups -- is going to raise a couple billion dollars before all is said or done. If Priorities doesn't capture as much as it hoped, then some other group will. If the goal was just to get Hillary Clinton elected, we wouldn't see such drama. But there are too many people here hoping to get rich and enhance their own station within Democratic party politics, and so there are going to be more and more scenes like this.

Brock's letter seems to have worked. Within hours after its release Monday afternoon, it was reported that he was considering rejoining Priorities' board. That's because the letter set off a Cuban Missile Crisis-like level of panicked discussion within Hillary Clinton circles, implicating such big names as "former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, longtime Clinton adviser Harold Ickes, and veteran Democratic strategists Charlie Baker and Paul Begala."

And this is what things are like before Hillary Clinton faces anything resembling adversity. It's not a good look.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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