Politics & Policy

Hillary’s Support of Sleazy Corporate Welfare Is a Political Gift — If the GOP Will Seize It

Hillary Clinton is an artful dodger when it comes to taking positions on lots of issues, but last Friday she opened a clear gap between herself and virtually every possible GOP presidential candidate. 

Breaking with sincere progressives such as Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, Hillary went out of her way to endorse the Export-Import Bank, a little-known government agency that guarantees loans so that American corporations can sell products overseas. Its charter is set to expire on June 30 unless Congress rescues it from critics who have long opposed its record of funneling the vast majority of its loans to mega-companies such as Boeing, General Electric, and Caterpillar — all of which can easily secure trade financing on their own.

But Hillary appears to have no trouble embracing such corporate welfare. While secretary of state she shilled for the Ex-Im Bank. In 2009, she appeared in Moscow with officials of the Russian airline Rosavia to tout its pursuit of Ex-Im funding. This is how she put it: “This is a shameless pitch for Rosavia — I’ve said what you wanted me to say, Sergey — to buy Boeing aircraft. Right? The Ex-Im Bank would welcome an application for financing from Rosavia to support its purchase of Boeing aircraft, and I hope that on a future visit I’ll see lot of new Rosavia-Boeing planes when I land in Moscow.”

In 2010, Boeing won a $3.7 billion airplane contract from Russia.

The Export-Import Bank certainly does perfectly legal business, but its activities frequently get caught up in sticky situations.

But others also benefited. Only two months after Boeing’s windfall, the company made its first donation to the Clinton Foundation, a $900,000 earmark for work in Haiti. Last year, David Almasi with the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research challenged Boeing chairman and CEO W. James McNerney at a shareholder meeting about what he called a “conflict of interest.” “There is at least one lobbyist in jail right this minute for giving public employees travel and meals worth far, far less than $900,000,” Almasi told McNerney (referring to Jack Abramoff). “He claims he didn’t intend bribery, that what he did was ‘business as usual.’ But he’s in jail now nonetheless. . . . [Boeing’s donation to the Clinton Foundation] seems reckless and unnecessary, even if it was not illegal.”

McNerney responded that he was “confident” the secretary of state would have pitched Caterpillar’s tractors or GE’s turbines, as well, and he was “highly confident that we followed the letter and the spirit of the law.”

The Export-Import Bank certainly does perfectly legal business, but its activities frequently get caught up in sticky situations. In 2012, Secretary Clinton visited Algeria and lobbied the Algerian government to buy General Electric products for its power plants. GE is routinely the second-largest recipient of Ex-Im financing, securing about 10 percent of the bank’s loans. A month after Clinton’s trip, GE made its first-ever donation to the Clinton Foundation — a whopping $1 million. The next year, the Algerian government awarded GE the power-plant contracts.

Other Ex-Im Bank loans have disturbing national-security implications. Take its 2013 authorization of $1.2 billion in loan guarantees to VEB-Leasing to purchase other Boeing planes. It turns out the VEB is a “core subsidiary” of the VEB Bank, which is completely owned by the Russian government. As an instrument of Vladimir Putin’s policy, VEB Bank has longstanding agreements, as it stated in a 2013 press release, “to promote exports of Russian military products and boost their competitive edge in the world market.” Rosoboronexport — the Russian company that accounts for more than 80 percent of Russian arms exports — is, to put in mildly, a controversial player. It is the chief supplier of arms to Syrian president Bashar Assad, whose military has inflicted horrendous casualties on Syria’s civilian population in that nation’s ongoing civil war. Rosoboronexport also has provided Iran with missile systems. Critics of the program claim Iran’s ongoing work to develop commercial satellite technologies could also be used to develop a long-range missile system,” The Hill has reported.

Hillary Clinton has justified her support for the Ex-Im Bank because of its loans to small business. But less than a quarter of the bank’s lending stream flows to small firms. The biggest beneficiary is Boeing, which alone accounted for 40 percent of the bank’s 2014 authorizations. For years, the bank’s inspector general has determined that many of the loans the bank does give out to smaller companies are rife with waste and fraud: Just last year, four of the bank’s officials were suspended or fired over ethical violations.

If the Ex-Im Bank survives as part of a backroom deal that also saves President Obama’s trade agreement, conservative grass-roots activists will be furious.

Supporters of the Ex-Im Bank, which include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are playing hardball in fighting to keep it alive. The Financial Times reports that “Boeing has threatened to move jobs overseas if the bank is not reauthorized.”

To their credit, almost every potential GOP presidential candidate has sided with Tea Party and other conservative groups seeking to shut down the bank. Even Jeb Bush, who once benefited from a partnership that got Ex-Im Bank financing, told the Club for Growth in March that when it came to corporate-welfare programs, “I think most of these things should be phased out. . . . We should find ways to lessen the contingent liability of the federal government.” 

The sole Ex-Im supporter among potential GOP presidential candidates appears to be South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. His support is so intense that last week he insisted, “I’m not going to support a trade bill that doesn’t deal with this issue. I want a vote before June 30 on a vehicle that must become law.”

If the Ex-Im Bank survives as part of a backroom deal that also saves President Obama’s trade agreement, conservative grass-roots activists will be furious. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and GOP Whip Steve Scalise all support ending the bank, but conservatives worry that it will be attached to “must pass” legislation and saved before its charter expires on June 30.

If the bank survives, conservatives should determine just which Republicans were responsible for or complicit in extending such a dubious corporate-welfare program. Moreover, they should make certain that voters know that when Hillary Clinton says to working-class Americans, “I’m on your side,” she really puts the interests of Boeing, General Electric, and other donors to the Clinton Foundation front and center.

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