Remember when Hillary Clinton was all over Barack Obama for having a campaign aide meet with the Canadian government about NAFTA? Trouble is, the story wasn’t true
. Now top Clinton strategist Mark Penn, on behalf of his private consulting firm, was found meeting
with the Colombian ambassador to lobby for a free trade deal. A Clinton spokesperson promptly announced yesterday that, in light of this development, Penn was no longer with the campaign. But she also said that Penn’s firm “will continue to provide polling and advice to the campaign.” In other words, he’s still around – which continues to be an albatross around Clinton’s problems.
Reporters and activists have long pointed out
the corporate agenda that Penn and his firm – Burston-Marsteller – wages on behalf of clients like Blackwater, Microsoft and General Motors. Even the head of Penn’s lobbying subsidiary is a top adviser
to John McCain. Labor organizations have pleaded Clinton for months to sever ties with Penn – given his company’s advocacy for union-busting clients.
But despite yesterday’s pronouncement that Penn is off the campaign, the fact that his firm will still provide “polling and advice” implies that it’s really just a smoke-and-mirrors game. For as long as everybody has known, “polling and advice” is what Mark Penn has been doing for Clinton all along – and it’s what he’s most famous for.
It’s never been clear exactly when Penn speaks on behalf of Hillary Clinton – or for his corporate clients. Which is why his meeting with the Colombian ambassador looked so bad. A presidential candidate speaks out against unfair trade agreements, while her chief adviser is getting paid by the foreign government to lobby U.S. elected officials to get the trade agreement passed. Clearly, Clinton had to do something drastic.
The Clinton campaign said that pollsters Geoff Garin and spokesman Howard Wolfson “will coordinate the campaign’s strategic message going forward.” But there was no mention about who will develop, create or manage that message. With Penn’s integral role in the campaign’s message development – along with the caveat that Penn’s firm will keep providing “polling and advice” – who else will be doing that than Mark Penn?
Does any of this really matter? Not really, if the press honestly admitted that Clinton will not win the party’s nomination. You know she’s an irrelevant sideshow when Ralph Nader publicy urges
her to stay in the race – while Democratic leaders have increasingly asked the Party to come together behind Obama.
But as long as Clinton keeps running – and she keeps attacking Obama
-- who is or is not with her campaign is extremely relevant. Now that they say that Mark Penn is out, she hopes that the Colombian trade flap will simply go away. But the trouble is that he hasn’t really left. Will the press and the public let her get away with her claim when his firm still provides “polling and advice”?
EDITOR’S NOTE: In his spare time and outside of regular work hours, Paul Hogarth volunteered on Obama’s field operation in San Francisco.