Everyone was wondering how Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign would act if it started falling behind in the polls, and yesterday we got an answer: It would act completely ridiculous.
The gist is that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both started leadership PACS after they got to the Senate, her in 2001, him in 2005. (Mickey Kaus alert: The first page of Hillpac disbursements are all to Huma Abedin.) Leadership PACs are the sort of things that expose campaign reform for the garbage it is: Spongy funds that can take $5000 donations and dole out more than the FEC limit of $2300 to federal office candidates. And they're engines of political influence. Tom DeLay used his ARMPAC to help out House candidates early on, when they needed it, expecting them to support him in his leadership races and floor votes. Clinton and Obama helped out House and Senate candidates to build ties for their upcoming presidential races, break in staff for said races (before becoming the spokeswoman for Clinton '08, Ann Lewis was the communications director of HillPAC), build direct mail networks.
Obama even gave to Clinton's 2006 Senate re-election cakewalk via his PAC:
So most serious presidential candidates who run from the House or Senate have these PACs. Obama kept up his PAC months into his 2008 race, doling out some money to House candidates, while Clinton rather immediately shut hers down. Legally, what Obama did is kosher: Ben Smith has the details in a very informative post. But Clinton's unsmiling bagman Howard Wolfson said this, which I'll annotate.
[W]e found out this week…that he has been using and operating a so-called leadership PAC in apparent contravention of campaign finance laws, taking in money from lobbyists despite the fact he said he doesn't take money from lobbyists,
It doesn't actually report any donations of late, but ok.
…taking in money from lobbyists and giving money out to candidates in New Hampshire and Iowa to support his presidential campaign.
Actually, only 44 percent of the final HopeFund money went to candidates in those states. And if the suggestion is that giving PAC donations to pols is bribery, what was it when Clinton directed her donors to give $90,000 to Gov. Tom Vilsack immediately after he dropped out of the race and endorsed her? (HopeFund only gave $74,000 in 2007, total.)
Senator Clinton does not have such a PAC. Others have shut theirs down.
That twisty phrasing makes it sound like she never had a PAC, doesn't it? But she had one and it raised/doled out more money than Hope Fund.
I would call on call on David [Axelrod, Obama adviser]; David, will you shut down Senator Obama's slush fund?
That's what this is all about, of course: A Rovian attack-from-weakness ploy. The Clintons have played faster and looser with fundraising and donating-for-influence than any Democrat in history, so an attack on Obama's funds is unexpected, the sort of thing that could muddy both of their images—although he would have more to lose. Think of draft dodging George W. Bush attacking John Kerry's Vietnam stories.
I liked the old Hillary, the one who had a comfortable enough lead to talk plain about the influence of lobbyists and the free flow of campaign money. This Hillary's just not credible.