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My Turn: Hillary Clinton should tell the people what she said in her private speeches

  • Nader AP file

  • Hillary Clinton has not told voters what she said to executives from Morgan Stanley, Fidelity Investments, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Golden Tree Asset Management, the National Automotive Dealers Association, Deutsche Bank, the National Association of Realtors, eBay and Cisco, among others. AP file



For the Monitor
Thursday, February 04, 2016
Last month as Hillary Clinton was leaving a town meeting in Manchester, Lee Fang of the Intercept asked her if she would release the transcripts of her paid, and very private speeches to Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street powerhouse historically deep in Washington, D.C., influence-peddling. Mrs. Clinton just laughed.

It is probably a good bet that her laugh was masking a deep worry, shared by her husband, that disclosing what she confidentially told big-business conferences and conventions around the country, which paid her about $5,000 a minute, would emerge as a dominant issue in the mainstream media.

Reporters have taken notice of her $250,000-and-up speeches before trade associations from which they have been excluded. But journalists have not demanded that she tell the voters what she told the executives from Morgan Stanley, Fidelity Investments, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Golden Tree Asset Management, the National Automotive Dealers Association, Deutsche Bank, the National Association of Realtors, eBay, Cisco, among other plutocracy paymasters seeking to expand their political influence.

According to the New York Times, her “contracts for such events typically include strict confidentiality agreements, meaning there are no known video recordings of Mrs. Clinton’s Wall Street appearances.” But why would Clinton, in a heated context with Sen. Bernie Sanders, maintain this cloak of secrecy and further the speculation it feeds? Could it have something to do with the many deals and entanglements, for political pursuits and self-enrichment, that have enveloped both Clintons over the years, detailed in Peter Schweizer’s recent book, Clinton Cash?

Were the contents of these meetings with business interests revealed, Hillary Clinton would lose more control of the progressive narrative she has worked hard to fabricate. Reporters, opponents and voters would quickly start to make connections and conclusions, whether rooted in fact or surmise. Her campaign message, recently garnished with progressive language to thwart Sanders, would be overshadowed.

What might have Hillary Clinton told these commercial audiences? What did those in attendance want to hear from her in such closed-door sessions? She says she spoke at these corporate gatherings about the state of the world. That is a big umbrella indeed. No doubt she delivered her views of U.S. foreign and military policy – unclassified observations she made in media interviews or public addresses. However, Hillary does her homework for each specific audience she addresses; it’s her way of responding to their priority interests and impressing them with her command of the subject matter.

For example, Morgan Stanley, one of many major Wall Street supporters of her electoral campaigns, is a strong supporter of the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty. So was she until recently, when she expediently stepped back with some skepticism about its labor and environmental contents. What did she say to Morgan Stanley’s officials when she was with them on the TPP, opposed by many voters?

According to Politico, drawing leaks from attendees, she told the Goldman-Sachs financiers that banker-bashing was unproductive and foolish. What these businesspeople want, of course, is access, should she become president, and such meetings generate friendships. They also want to hear Hillary Clinton’s views on regulation, tax policies, subsidies, government contracting matters and trade. We won’t know what she told those groups, who made her a millionaire many times over (she received in a single speech five times the household median income for a year) until the press and the people demand their right to know and judge her accordingly.

So far she has been able to dodge disclosing the content of her speeches, while interviewers were focusing on the giant speech fees. But now she is in New Hampshire – the last state of “retail campaigning” and town meetings where voters can put face-to-face to Clinton the demand that she disclose the content of her speeches inside these closed-door business gatherings. Once she leaves New Hampshire, her flaks and screeners will rapidly replace people-to-people dialogue with big-media buys and photo opportunities.

The right to know is never more important than when it pertains to the activities of presidential candidates. The White House is a cauldron of excessive secrecy – secret deals, secret memos, secret meetings with special interests on matters of serious public policy. Morbid secrecy breeds recklessness and bad government. If there is ever a time to teach presidential candidates about openness in government, it is when they are desperately seeking our votes.

Wednesday night’s town hall gives the inquiring voters and Bernie Sanders an opportunity to make transparency an important matter of candidate accountability and believability. Otherwise, manipulative and deceptive rhetoric holds sway.

In any event, before Hillary Clinton departs from New Hampshire on Tuesday, the voters themselves who meet her can insist that she tell them just what she told those business magnates on Wall Street. She has a large staff and good files for fully and promptly responding to lifting this strange curtain of secrecy around closed speeches for big fees.

Her laughing off any such questions is not the way, as I recall, New Hampshirites expect candidates to treat them. My mother always had a way with getting answers from candidates she met. On shaking hands with a candidate, she did not let go of the candidate’s hand until she got her answer.



(Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, writer and former candidate for president.)