As a U.S. senator considering a 2008 presidential run, Hillary Rodham Clinton was able to go where other potential candidates didn’t, flying taxpayer-funded charters to speak to thousands of people at events arranged by her campaign donors and political allies.
In April 2006, she spoke to 3,000 people for what was billed as the “inaugural Doherty-Granoff Forum on Women Leaders” at Brown University. She rapped the George W. Bush administration for its flawed response to Hurricane Katrina, its “resistance” to scientific evidence and “the largest cut to education in the history of the Department of Education.”
But the speech was not the first in a regular series. It was the only Doherty-Granoff forum until senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett delivered the second in 2011. The forum was arranged by Ellen Doherty-Granhoff and husband Michael Granoff, longtime Clinton donors who paid Brown to host the event.
Taxpayers paid $1,400 for charter airfare for Clinton and her staff to Providence, R.I., because the speech was an “official” event. Since her campaign chipped in to cover the costs of a fundraiser in Rhode Island the same day, the trip fit within the rules that allow lawmakers â€” and presidents â€” to mix political and official events on their itineraries.
As Clinton gears up for an expected presidential campaign, her Senate travel records show a sophisticated strategic use of official resources in advance of her last presidential campaign. USA TODAY reported earlier this month that Clinton ramped up her use of taxpayer-funded charters in advance of her 2006 re-election and 2008 presidential campaign, while no other 2008 contenders in the Senate did so.
Clinton “spent eight years fighting for the people of New York, attending events inside and outside of New York working for her constituents and for her party,” Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill told USA TODAY. “She was meticulous about playing by the rules. Period.”
Members of Congress have wide latitude to determine what is official travel, said Jan Baran, head of the election law practice at the law firm Wiley Rein. He called Clinton’s allocation of costs between her Senate office and campaign account “very sophisticated” and something the Clintons would know well since the same general rules applied to President Bill Clinton when he was in office.
There is no indication her trips violated any rules, and her office appears to have been careful to parse out official and political expenses.
Michael Granoff, the founder of Pomona Capital and a former economic adviser to Bill Clinton, told USA TODAY he came up with the plan for the Brown forum before he asked Clinton to attend. He said he did not know about her other activities in the state that day and did not participate in any fundraising.
Granoff said he made a donation to the university â€” he would not say how much â€” but the lecture series “is more about being able to bring people like that and get people to come to a place like Brown.” Granoff credits Clinton and Jarrett for “taking the time to come,” and notes, “Neither of them was paid.”
Clinton, however, did use the trip to raise money. She took in $39,000 from Rhode Island donors on the same day as the speech, according to Federal Election Commission records, and her campaign spent $4,500 on catering $4,900 for the political portion of the charter airfare.
RAISING MONEY IN ATLANTA
On another occasion, in October 2005, taxpayers paid $2,800 for Sen. Clinton and her staff to fly to Atlanta to deliver the annual Eizenstat Annual Lecture at Ahavath Achim Synagogue. The Eizenstat lecture series was created by Stuart Eizenstat, who served in several top posts in the Jimmy Carter and Clinton administrations, including deputy secretary of the Treasury. Speakers at the lecture series have included former presidents Clinton and Carter, former vice president Al Gore and then-senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., but no Republican elected officials.
According to an Associated Press report, Clinton used the speech to accuse President Bush of squandering the good economy her husband had left behind. “Borrow and spend, borrow and spend, that’s all we’ve done the last four years,” Clinton said.
Clinton also held an event that day with local Democrats, raising $31,000 for her 2006 re-election, including $2000 from Eizenstat, who said the trip and fundraiser were his ideas.
Clinton accepted the invitation to speak “without any condition,” Eizenstat said. “She didn’t call me and say, ‘I’d like to do a southeastern fundraiser.'” Eizenstat said he arranged the event at the home of a local couple “to meet local Democrats.” Her campaign covered $3,500 worth of travel costs for that trip, records show.
AMERICAN DEMOCRACY INSTITUTE
In February 2006, Clinton spoke at a “regional youth summit” in Philadelphia organized by the American Democracy Institute, which called itself a “new kind of progressive think tank” committed to getting people involved in the democratic process.
ADI was started by John Hart â€” who had worked in the Clinton White House â€” and several other alumni of Bill Clinton’s administration, including former Housing and Urban Development secretary Henry Cisneros. The group named Sen. Clinton honorary chair of its “national youth initiative,” and she spoke at its kickoff event in Chicago in December 2005.
In Philadelphia, Clinton urged young people to civic action. “Bring your hopes, bring your dreams, bring your iPods and your cell-phone cameras and change the world,” she said, according to an account in ThePhiladelphia Inquirer
Because this was an “official” event, Clinton and her aide Huma Abedin charged taxpayers $2,400 for a roundtrip charter flight from White Plains, N.Y., to Philadelphia, 125 miles away.
The Chicago event was similar. Clinton avoided direct mention of the Bush administration, but she raised concerns about government policies in a variety of areas, particularly energy and the environment.
Taxpayers did not pay for Clinton’s travel to Chicago because she was on a broader Midwest fundraising swing funded by various political committees. She raised $125,000 from Illinois donors that day.
Hart told USA TODAY he created ADI based on his experiences in the private and public sector, where he concluded that people wanted to get more involved in civic matters but needed tools to help them. “Sen. Clinton’s participation was really helpful in this discussion to understand what do people need to know to get more involved,” he said.
The fact that the organization featured a roster Clinton White House alumni was because when Hart wanted to start the group, he said, he “went to people that I knew and that was a product of where I worked.”