By Gustav Wynn
If you haven’t heard yet about John Podesta, don’t be surprised – the major media’s radio silence belies his power and influence, working both inside and outside the US government to bundle campaign money and influence policy. Outside the US, his family’s lobbying firm is a magnet for gobs of cash coming from Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Qatar and many others hoping to curry favor on the inside track.
The above video demonstrates the bluntness of Mr. Podesta, one time chief of staff to Bill Clinton, as he lay out his ill-fated scheme for public education, raining aggressive standardized testing policies, Common Core and charter schools onto the states through an avalanche of money. Buddied up with Jeb Bush, this 42 minute conference unpacked in 2012 how the Race to the Top initiative would transform every 3rd-8th grade public school into testing factories built on unproven, secret logarithmic formulas to rank students, teachers and schools.
PEARSON PAYDAY: The clip shows Bush and Podesta laughing about how strongly they agreed that billionaire philanthropists, corporations, hedge fund managers and political action committees should pump money into “infrastructure” for education reform. The plot would succeed, farming out major education functions to testing firms and consultants as schools lost student funding, precious learning time, arts, sports and counseling services.
Part of the plan was to generate PR and “communications” through advocacy organizations, but the heavy lifting came as hedge funders flooded statehouses with campaign cash. Once elected, Podesta’s revolving door came into use, dispatching staffers to write the policy for busy politicians. He founded Center for American Progress, the think tank Politico calls Hillary’s “policy shop” and hired a slew of former Dept of Education officials to write articles.
The implementation of Common Core has been roundly panned, with Hillary Clinton herself deeming it a botch-job after it led to explosive test refusals across the states, led in striking fashion by New York. Podesta noted in the video that education “reform” would go through ups and downs, insisting the donors anticipate fierce, sustained resistance.
He accurately described how teachers would reject his corporatization, but he left out how parents and students would opt-out of exams en masse, turning the resultant data into “swiss cheese” and thereby, making expectations of standardization pointless. Yet Hillary doubled down just last week, saying she would encourage her granddaughter to take the Common Core exams. This signals to education reformers to keep funding candidates and keep promoting the “valuable data” claim.
DEEDS, NOT WORDS: Hillary promised last month to end the revolving door onstage in televised debates, but her closest advisers took funding from the Gates, Waltons and Wall Street to promote privatization. Her current staff includes lobbyists for Keystone XL, private prisons and big finance firms.
The idea that she takes Wall Street money yet would still be tough on them defies common sense, as did the claim Obama was tough on banks after he took their millions. Like David Dayen, those following the issue know Obama went exceedingly soft on banks, failing to prosecute securities fraud, robosigning and granting backdoor immunity deals that only cut in the government on the heist.
Hillary says she needs corporate cash to compete with Republicans, but this was proven wrong by Bernie, raising record-breaking amounts at the same time making PAC money a liability. Hillary’s lack of vision shows how little faith she had in working class Americans.
THE ESTABLISHMENT HELPS IT’S OWN: But it also shows how entrenched Hillary is in the money-fueled status quo. Podesta has been running SuperPACs since the Obama years, but was also given powerful advisory positions in the White House, picking Obama’s cabinet members and advising on education and environmental issues.
Podesta’s family lobbies for a variety of corporate interests, foreign governments and fossil fuel producers, including Sberbank, the biggest state-influenced bank in Russia, who was looking to avoid sanctions following the occupation of Crimea. The same bank was just found to have shell corporations in the Panama Papers.
The major media won’t report this, but here, Salon exposes how foreign entities ply The Podesta Group with rich lobbying fees, notably Saudi royalty, the governments of Iraq and Kuwait, Qatari liquid natural gas producers and many US corporations including Walmart, Monsanto and Lockheed Martin.
The Podesta Group was founded by John Podesta but is now run by Tony Podesta, also a large bundler for Hillary. The firm was instrumental in brokering unconscionable deals as Clinton administration officials like Madeline Albright and Wesley Clark actually acquired major telecoms in Kosovo, capitalizing on their diplomatic contacts. The revolving door is still in full swing today. Dubbing John Podesta the “Hillary moneyman”, reporter Michael Isikoff listed a number of foreign lobbyists who also bundle big bucks for Hillary including some who served with her at the State Dept.
ABOVE REPROACH: The Podestas maintain that the millions the firm receives do not affect John’s work on policy matters. John also told Politico that speeches the Clintons gave to Wall Street and overseas conglomerates don’t affect their decisions. Podesta himself advised Bill Clinton to repeal Glass-Steagall, in a hasty 3-day decision that is today seen as a contributing cause of the 2008 fiscal crisis, only to lobby for Bank of America and others after leaving office.
Writing for The Nation in 2013, Ken Silverstein described CAP as an uncommonly secretive revolving door to the Obama White House, basically an unregistered lobby shop promising access to important officials for large contributions. CAP took exception, yet refused to disclose donors or basic financial statements.
Time and again, the Podesta’s controversial deeds never seem to reflect back on Hillary. For example, John co-hosted this recent fundraiser with an NRA lobbyist, another with a big pharma lobbyist, and nuclear power producers. Tony’s wife Heather, also a major bundler, lobbies for the health insurance industry.
PRO-UNION, THIS WEEK: In NY, Hillary visited the picket line of striking Verizon workers but she has taken major campaign cash from Verizon. She also took over $330k from the Waltons, the largest anti-union employer in the US. But Hillary’s union support is decidedly top-down. Here the NY Post, Fox News, Jacobin, the LA Times, Slate, and union teachers themselves disapprove of the extremely early endorsement of Clinton by the AFT, followed later by the NEA.
MEDIA MALPRACTICE: The fix will not be televised. CNN’s parent corp is a top donor to Hillary’s campaign which is hard to ignore seeing their “Bernie Blackout”. Here a CNN anchor actually tells Amy Goodman that Bernie’s speech was censored because he didn’t win more states than Hillary.
In order to paint Hillary’s win as a foregone conclusion, media regularly reports delegate totals including superdelegates which are subject to change. But the media didn’t cover Bernie at all for 2-3 months until Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes started reporting his large crowds. The NY Times was caught stealth-editing a positive Bernie article after it was shared widely. The WaPo’s bias was evident as they publushed 16 anti-Bernie articles right before Super Tuesday.
THANKS HILLARY: Since the first Citizens United ruling in January 2012, media firms have enjoyed over $5 billion per year in expanded ad spending. Ironically, the case began as a lawsuit pitting Citiens United, a right wing organization against Hillary Clinton who wanted to block them from distributing DVDs called Hillary The Movie. The Supreme Court however greatly expanded the scope of the case to categorize almost all political spending in national races as “free speech”.
Later that year, a second Citizens United ruling made unlimited, anonymous spending legal in all political races, including state and local contests. So what started as a bitter vendetta against Hillary became a key ruling greenlighting uncontrollable money orgies during elections, particularly encouraging negative ads as “independent” expenditures are less controversial. The prohibition against coordination between PACs and campaigns has become something of an open joke, but the greater irony is the way Hillary now harnesses the PAC money and unlimited spending as the frontrunner.
THE SUPERDELEGATE FIX: Leaving little to chance, Hillary “bought” hundreds of superdelegates in 2015 before Bernie was even running. The Hillary Victory Fund is a PAC run by her campaign and the DNC which uses the campaign finance loophole created by the awful McKutcheon SCOTUS decision.
Hillary’s wealthy supporters max out contributions to 33 different state parties who then transfer the money to Hillary. It’s legal but this is money laundering. Then, the fund distributes less than a third of the donations to local candidates, securing the votes of superdelegates long before a single primary vote was cast.
They double the money by maxing out spouses, and then double it again by doing it in calendar years 2015 and 2016. So even though we have limits, Hillary found a way to get $25 million from her core contributors and hundred of superdelegates committed. This is how the game was rigged before votes were cast. Wyoming showed us that people’s votes don’t matter, Bernie won by 12% but got 7 delegates to Hillary’s 11.
As the primary progresses, many voters are realizing how byzantine and unfair party primaries are, with many controls on the idea of one person-one vote, not the least of which has been voting improprieties such as the hours-long lines in Arizona, reports of unrequested party affiliation switching in NY, PA and elsewhere.
The bottom line here is class war, with the 1% doing their all to secure a win for the most corporatist candidate they can. An anti-establishment Republican voter backlash has led to unimaginable success by Donald Trump, but so too have Democratic voters flocked to Bernie Sanders as 2016 increasingly becomes an election about rejecting money-in-politics. We can only hope the truth somehow gets out to the largest voting block in the country – the non-voter – to motivate them to get active and defend the middle class.
About the Author:
(OpEdNews Contributing Editor since October 2006) Inner city schoolteacher from New York, mostly covering media manipulation. I put election/finance reform ahead of all issues but also advocate for fiscal conservatism, ethics in journalism and curbing overpopulation. I enjoy open debate, history, the arts and hope to adopt a third child. Gustav Wynn is a pseudonym, but you knew that.