In any normal election campaign, we would be delighted to see the news this past week that both of our major parties’ presidential standard-bearers were intimately involved in supporting an institution of higher education.
But, as you may have noticed, this is not any normal election campaign. It is a campaign that has bonded a majority of Americans behind just one prevailing verdict: We really don’t trust, respect or even like the presidential candidate we are going to end up voting for. It’s the first time ever that polls have shown majorities of Americans have strongly negative views of both the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees.
If you’re among those half-heartedly backing a candidate, you probably weren’t very proud about what you learned in recent days about the extent of your contender’s education-promoting efforts.
Those of you who figure you’ll be voting for Donald Trump most likely love his tough-talk ways, huge action-figure promises — and his unrelenting attacks on Hillary and Bill Clinton for what he calls their “pay-to-play” politics and practices. So you’re probably thinking: Here we go with another sob story about the now-defunct Trump University and some former students who wail about being scammed and never getting the education they were promised when they paid their tuitions.
Well, yes, but no: Because the other day, The Washington Post added a new chapter to that story that seemed to give Trump U a pay-for-play plot. In 2013, when the office of Florida’s Republican attorney general, Pam Bondi, was reported to be probing whether or not to pursue a legal case against Trump University, Trump gave Bondi a $25,000 campaign contribution; and Bondi’s office never pursued the legal case. Last week, The Post reported the campaign contribution came from Trump’s charitable family foundation, which being tax-exempt, wasn’t allowed to make political contributions. So the Internal Revenue Service fined Trump $2,500. Indeed, Trump had made similar contributions to three other state attorneys general whose offices had been probing Trump University allegations.
Under normal circumstances, you might assume that would make it awkward for Trump’s backers to take full-throated advantage of any new Hillary-Bill wrinkle that seemed to have a tinge of pay-for-play potential. But, as we’ve agreed, there are no normal circumstances in campaign 2016. So all you Trumpsters will probably drool as you read on.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post published a front page report by Rosalind S. Helderman and Michelle Ye Hee Lee about a 2009 event in which then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got unusually involved in promoting an institution for higher education that few of us had ever even heard of before. The report was based on information found in an email (made public last year) that Clinton wrote to her chief of staff, at a time her aides were working on the guest list for a private state department dinner on higher education matters. The secretary said she wanted to include the founder of Laureate International Universities, a for-profit college company which she described as “the fastest growing college network in the world.” Its founder, the secretary wrote, was businessman Doug Becker, “who Bill likes a lot.”
Indeed, we now know how much Becker likes Bill. Nine months after the dinner, Laureate International Universities hired Bill Clinton as its consultant and “honorary chancellor” — and paid the former president $17.6 million over five years. (His contract expired in 2015, when Hillary began her presidential campaign.) The Post found no evidence that the state department took any action that benefitted Becker and his profit-making international college. But Becker did get to sit, sip and sup among the luminaries who see themselves as enlightening the world of international education and diplomacy. It’s a power-perch where valuable connections have been known to be made.
Like many of you, I have already made my election decision. I know Trump is the most unprepared, unstable, untruthful, demagogic practitioner of the politics of hate that I have covered in my decades of presidential reporting. And I know a third party vote is a throwaway vote.
But I also know what I would have been thinking and writing if I had discovered that, say, Richard Nixon (who once threw me off his historic China trip when he discovered I was part of a team of Newsday reporters investigating his finances) made $17.6 million as easily as the Clinton family did.
So, while I know how I will cast my secret ballot, I also know this: I’ll be casting my historic vote with an abundance of patriotism but an absence of pride, as I wish her Godspeed.
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Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at [email protected].