Cornerstones of Hillary Clinton’s “Grassroots” Campaign: Corporate Funding and Unpaid Labor

Blog / Saturday, June 13th, 2015

Democratic US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton constantly fails to live up to her reputation as an ostensibly progressive politician.

The media has noticed. The Daily Beast laments that progressives are “between Hillary and a hard place.” The New York Times notes that “she works to deny Mr. [Bernie] Sanders or any other liberal an issue on which to bloody her from the left.” Right-leaning Politico reports that Clinton has “quietly tried to calm her party’s restive progressive wing, segments of which are actively seeking an alternative in 2016” and that progressives have “lash[ed] out at Clinton” for refusing to take a stance against Obama’s secretive neoliberal TPP free trade agreement—also known as a global NAFTA, or “NAFTA on steroids.”

In the latest exposé, the Guardian reports that Clinton’s campaign is largely based on unpaid labor. The British publication reports (emphasis mine)

Experienced, adult political operatives who want to do grassroots work for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign currently have no choice but to work as unpaid, full-time interns, raising new questions about how the White House frontrunner runs her own labor force as she prepares to double down on young people’s role in the American economy.

The Clinton campaign is currently in the midst of what multiple Democratic sources described as a “hiring freeze” for paid organizing positions in the early campaign states where the former Secretary of State is laying the foundations of a massive national staff, with few if any paying jobs available for field operations.

Multiple political organizers and fair-wage advocates painted a picture of a candidate preaching economic opportunity while putting prospective employees in a bind: former campaign staffers are taking unpaid fellowships from now into August, with hopes of securing a job they expect to consist of almost the same responsibilities that they handle as fellows – only with the addition of a pay check and benefits.

And not only are these workers unpaid; the Democratic politician’s campaign is overflowing with staff who are additionally “overqualified” for their current position. The Guardian indicates that unpaid Clinton fellows are doing work “of value to the Clinton campaign which would otherwise be done by paid staff.”

The newspaper also speaks to the irony of this while Clinton’s campaign is scheduled to hold at least 26 fundraisers in June 2015 alone. The most likely Democratic candidate for president is “expecting political veterans to gamble their careers on her without pay” and leaving “full-time organizers with little choice but to criss-cross the country and work as ‘free help.'”

A veteran Democratic strategist unaffiliated with any presidential campaign told the newspaper, describing Clinton’s campaign, “It is a really terrible way to treat the most vulnerable people on campaign staff and makes me question their leadership on everything else.”

The most stinging piece of hypocrisy is the fact that Clinton has herself criticized companies for exploiting unpaid labor. “Businesses have taken advantage of unpaid internships to an extent that it is blocking the opportunities for young people to move on into paid employment,” she said in 2013. “More businesses need to move their so-called interns to employees.”

Awash in Money, yet Unwilling to Pay

This is coming from a purportedly progressive candidate who, along with her husband, former president Bill Clinton, made at least $30 million in the 16 months from the beginning of 2014 to April 2015. Over $25 million of this came simply from speeches. (As I have written before, Bill was paid almost $500,000 for his roughly 30-minute talk at a world hunger conference in 2014.)

Hillary Clinton has close corporate ties and powerful, eager corporate sponsors. And yet her campaign cannot fork out even the most meager of salaries for those working for her.

The Wall Street Journal describes the Democratic presidential candidate writing “Among recent secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton was one of the most aggressive global cheerleaders for American companies, pushing governments to sign deals and change policies to the advantage of corporate giants such as General Electric Co., Exxon Mobil Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Boeing Co.”

The Intercept leaked an invitation to have a “Conversation with Hillary.” Attendees were asked to pay $2,700 per person. (AFP finally covered the story 12 days after The Intercept broke it.)

CREDIT: The Intercept
CREDIT: The Intercept

And Wall Street? Wall Street loves Hillary. As Politico reveals, in spite of her sporadic anti-corporate populist rhetoric,

Down on Wall Street they don’t believe it for a minute. While the finance industry does genuinely hate Warren, the big bankers love Clinton, and by and large they badly want her to be president. Many of the rich and powerful in the financial industry—among them, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, Tom Nides, a powerful vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, and the heads of JPMorganChase and Bank of America—consider Clinton a pragmatic problem-solver not prone to populist rhetoric. To them, she’s someone who gets the idea that we all benefit if Wall Street and American business thrive. What about her forays into fiery rhetoric? They dismiss it quickly as political maneuvers. None of them think she really means her populism.

In spite of the millions of corporate dollars in which Hillary Clinton is awash, her putative progressive campaign appears to be unwilling to pay those who work full time for her. This is true grassroots democracy in action—precisely the kind on which the Democratic Party has built its impeccably righteous reputation.