Hillary Clinton+Jeb Bush

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush. (Left: European Pressphoto Agency; Right: AP)

By Dan Balz, Chief correspondent
May 19, 2015 at 12:42 PM

Despite the blur of activity by innumerable candidates, the 2016 presidential campaign so far is a mostly shapeless enterprise, save for one dominant factor: the prominence of money in the narrative. More than anything, money has been the defining characteristic of the race, highlighted by the political and private activities of the brand names of Clinton and Bush.

In their own ways, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush have brought unintentional attention to the role of money in politics and public life, to the intersection of money and political and public influence, and to the general absence of restraints, self-imposed or enforced.
Dan Balz is Chief Correspondent at The Washington Post. He has served as the paper’s National Editor, Political Editor, White House correspondent and Southwest correspondent. View Archive

For Clinton, the story is partly about non-campaign money, about fundraising for the Clinton Foundation as well as the extraordinary amounts of money she and former president Bill Clinton have been paid for speeches since early 2014. For Bush, it is the apparent disregard for the spirit of campaign finance laws as he travels the country, filling up his super PAC with tens and tens of millions of dollars, all the while posing as someone still trying to decide whether he will become a candidate.

Clinton cannot shake off questions and criticism about how she and her husband have cashed in after leaving public service. Even though much had been written about the amounts each of the Clintons was being paid for speeches to corporate, trade-association or educational institutions, the revelation last week that they have received about $25 million for 104 speeches since early 2014 was eye-popping.

Hillary Clinton likes to say the deck is stacked against average Americans. She said Tuesday in Iowa that she wants to “reshuffle” that deck. No doubt that is a genuine belief from a Democratic politician looking at the state of the economy and comes with a conviction that public policies can and should be geared to alleviate the imbalance, at least somewhat.
Starting two weeks after his last day as president, Bill began giving paid speeches — a career that has generated extraordinary wealth. View Graphic

But she and her husband also are evidence of the imbalance. Bill Clinton’s declaration that he will continue to make paid speeches because, as he told NBC News, “I gotta pay our bills” sounds tone-deaf in the face of it all.

The Clinton Foundation points to another problem of a Clinton presidential candidacy: the potential conflicts of interest — real or perceived — that the foundation’s fundraising could pose should Hillary Clinton win the White House in 2016. The charitable foundation does good work — few would dispute that. But the sources of money are not all equal, particularly foreign governments.

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