According to e-mails released by WikiLeaks, the Clinton campaign’s high command debated whether it would appear unethical to have registered lobbyists who worked for foreign governments raise money for her campaign. In the end, the campaign concluded that any bad press from such a decision would be survivable, and that, in the words of their chief fundraiser, they would be best “just taking the money and dealing with any attacks.”
On April 13, 2015, Dennis Cheng, Clinton’s national finance director, asked his colleagues if lobbyists working for foreign governments could raise money for her campaign:
We really need [sic] make a policy decision on this soon – whether we are allowing those lobbying on behalf of foreign governments to raise $ for the campaign. Or case by case.
“This is really a straight up political call” campaign general counsel Marc Elias replied. “One middle option is to take case by case. If, for example, they are FARA registered for Canada, we may not case [sic]. If for N. Korea we would.”
Staffer Karuna Seshasai went through a long list of prospective lobbyist-fundraisers and concluded that 27 out of 370 prospective bundlers had worked for foreign governments, flagging a handful for particular concern. After a conference call, Seshasai laid out a draft policy that would have barred some of those figures:
The policy would be to not allow any currently registered foreign agents (those who register with FARA) to contribute or raise for the campaign. If someone terminates their registration, they would be allowed to contribute or raise for the campaign.
But Cheng pushed back, arguing that the potential donations were too lucrative to give up:
I feel like we are leaving a good amount of money on the table (both for primary and general, and then DNC and state parties) . . . and how do we explain to people that we’ll take money from a corporate lobbyist but not them; that the Foundation takes $ from foreign govts but we now won’t.
Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manger, responded:
Marc [Elias] made a convincing case to me this am that these sorts of restrictions don’t really get you anything…that Obama actually got judged MORE harshly as a result. He convinced me. So . . . in a complete U-turn, I’m ok just taking the money and dealing with any attacks.
“Take the money!!” added Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communications director.
And so the Clinton campaign did. Lobbyists have so far raised $7 million for the Democratic nominee, according to FEC records; They’ve raised no money for Trump.