Kamala Harris Schmoozes Mega-Donors While “Rejecting” Corporate Funding
Harris seems to be following the Clinton 2016 roadmap, from having worked closely with former Clinton campaign and Obama administration staffers to privately courting Clinton’s “inner circle” of donors for much of the past two years.
On Monday, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) formally announced her campaign for the presidency — surprising few, given long-standing speculation that she would seek the country’s highest office that began shortly after her Senate victory in 2016. However, despite the fact that her candidacy has long had an air of inevitability around it, Harris is surprisingly unpopular among Democratic and left-leaning voters. Many establishment liberal pundits have blamed her unpopularity on “racism” and “sexism” even though Harris is actually less popular among African-American than Caucasian Democrats.
Yet, as Part 1 of this series revealed, a likely factor behind the lack of enthusiasm for Harris’ campaign among left-leaning voters is the gulf between her public persona and the often antithetical stances she takes in private. In Part 1, MintPress News showed that one of the clearest examples of this divide was Harris’ courting of the Israel lobby and Israeli politicians in private meetings and “off-the-record” sessions she chose not to publicize, so as to maintain an image of “neutrality” on the Israel/Palestine conflict in public.
Many readers may remember that the last Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, also used the tactic of “private” and “public” positions on contentious political issues in order to court wealthy donors in private while also attempting to convince voters that she supported entirely different policies. However, as Clinton learned the hard way, the internet has made it increasingly difficult to have it both ways.
Harris, however, seems to be following the Clinton 2016 roadmap, from having worked closely with former Clinton campaign and Obama administration staffers to privately courting Clinton’s “inner circle” of donors for much of the past two years. Notably, Harris is attempting to differentiate herself from Clinton through identity politics, as well as continuing to erect a public persona that is at odds with her past and her unpublicized actions.
A “progressive prosecutor”?
While Harris’ position on the Israel/Palestine conflict shows a clear division between the public image she has sought to craft and her “off-the-record” remarks to groups like AIPAC, another clear area where Harris’ public persona is at odds with her actual practices revolves around a major talking point of her fledgling campaign: the claim that Harris, as attorney general of California, was a “progressive prosecutor.”
That term, “progressive prosecutor,” was coined by Harris herself in her book The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, which was published earlier this month in likely anticipation of her now-formalized presidential campaign. Harris defines the term as follows:
The job of a progressive prosecutor is to look out for the overlooked, to speak up for those whose voices aren’t being heard, to see and address the causes of crime, not just their consequences, and to shine a light on the inequality and unfairness that lead to injustice. It is to recognize that not everyone needs punishment, that what many need, quite plainly, is help.”
While Harris’ recently published book seeks to define her career as California’s attorney general in this way, there is substantial evidence that Harris’ track record is hardly “progressive.” Indeed, Harris’ attempt to paint herself as a “progressive prosecutor” was considered inaccurate enough to warrant an opinion article in the New York Times soon after her book’s publication that sought to debunk this very claim.
First, it is important to note that Harris did implement some policies that could fit into her definition of a “progressive prosecutor,” such as her push to make California the first state to institute statewide implicit bias training for law enforcement officers as well as her promotion of the Back on Track program, which offered first-time non-violent drug offenders job training and GED courses.
However, that image is hard to maintain when looking at Harris’ track record as a whole. For instance, as attorney general, she largely ignored cases of police brutality. For instance, when Oakland police officer Miguel Masso shot and killed Alan Blueford in 2012, Harris refused to meet with those calling for charges to be brought against Masso, despite the fact that multiple witnesses said Blueford had no weapon, did not pose a threat to the officer, and was running away from the officer at the time Masso fired his weapon. Later, supporters of the Justice For Alan Blueford Coalition engaged in civil disobedience to protest Harris’ lack of interest in pursuing the issue. Harris had them arrested along with their legal observer.
Other examples of Harris’ troubling record on police violence include the fact that she opposed a bill that would have required her office to investigate fatal police shootings and also refused to support statewide standards for police body cameras.
In addition, as Lara Bazelon noted in her recent op-ed in the Times, Harris also defended unjust convictions:
Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors.”
Yet, perhaps the most troubling event in Harris’ past occurred in 2014, when her lawyers argued in court that if minimum-custody inmates were released early, the state of California would “lose an important labor pool.” As the Los Angeles Times noted at the time, “Most of those prisoners now work as groundskeepers, janitors and in prison kitchens, with wages that range from 8 cents to 37 cents per hour.” Harris later asserted that she had been unaware that the lawyers working under her direct supervision had made this argument and further stated that she disagreed with their argument after details of the case were made public.
Despite her record of inaction on police brutality and criminal justice issues, Harris writes in her just-published book:
We must speak truth about police brutality, about racial bias, about the killing of unarmed black men. Police brutality occurs in America and we have to root it out wherever we find it.”
She also lists the names of high-profile victims of police violence. As the Guardian recently noted:
But there are other names she [Harris] does not add to this list, including Alan Blueford, Mario Woods, and Amilcar Perez-Lopez – all victims who were killed in the San Francisco Bay Area, and whose cases Harris could have directly addressed.”
This specific oversight speaks to a larger practice that Harris seems to use regularly: promote a public persona of progressivism that highlights a handful of popular policies while obfuscating the larger pool of policies and decisions that would challenge that image.
The Second Coming of Hillary?
Though Kamala Harris is a relative newcomer to politics at the national level, she has certainly entered the 2020 campaign scene with substantial baggage, much of which reveals her willingness to portray herself in public very differently from the politician her private actions suggest. As was noted earlier on in this piece, this tactic bears a remarkable similarity to a private speech Hillary Clinton had made to Wall Street bankers during her 2016 campaign, where she expressed the importance of having a “private” and “public” position on hot-button issues. Though she later attempted to defend the comment, Clinton’s words were widely interpreted as meaning that her public position was an inaccurate portrayal of her actual, “private” position. Harris, thus far, appears to be walking a similar path.
Yet, such similarities are unsurprising when one considers that Harris had stuffed her staff for the past few years with former Clinton campaign operatives, most of whom left their posts just months before her campaign was announced. Yet, not long after her launching her campaign, Harris has already added several top Clinton campaign staffers to her own presidential campaign. Furthermore, she has been dutifully courting Clinton’s former donors for the better part of the last two years.
After winning her Senate seat in 2016, Harris gave many key staff positions to former Clinton staffers — including Sergio Gonzalez, a senior policy advisor to Harris and former regional director for Hillary for America; the late Tyrone Gayle, who was press secretary for Harris and a member of Clinton’s 2016 communications team; Kate Water, who became Harris’ deputy press secretary and was formerly a deputy press secretary for Clinton’s campaign during the Iowa caucus and later press secretary for several subsequent primaries; and Lily Adams, Harris’s communications director, who was the DNC’s deputy communications director and later the Iowa communication’s director for the Clinton campaign.
Though only Adams and Gonzalez continue to work for Harris, the California senator has already added many more Clinton campaign staffers to her 2020 campaign team. Former Clinton campaign finance lawyer Marc Elias will serve as general counsel for Harris; Angelique Cannon, another Clinton 2016 staffer, will serve as Harris’ national finance director; and David Huynh, who was Hillary Clinton’s director of delegate operations in 2016, will serve as a senior adviser. Harris’ hiring of Huynh has drawn some attention owing to his success in essentially weaponizing superdelegates in Clinton’s favor, leading some to suggest that Harris will follow a similar strategy despite the reduced role of superdelegates in the Democratic Party.
Notably, the only former Bernie Sanders staffer Harris has hired is Mike Nellis — formerly of Revolution Messaging, which was credited by some media outlets with building Sanders’ “political revolution” and ensuring his success with small donors in 2016. As Politico noted at the time, the success of Sanders’ digital campaign revealed the shortcomings of Clinton’s digital campaign. Thus, Harris’ decision to hire Nellis suggests that she is seeking to add Sanders’ digital messaging and branding experts to her campaign staff as opposed to any Sanders’ campaign staffers involved in developing actual policies.
Harris has also employed Obama-era officials such as Zev Karlin-Neumann, who is currently Harris’ speechwriter and was previously a speechwriter for the National Security Council under Obama; Michelle Rothblum, Harris’ scheduler and principal associate director of scheduling in the Obama White House, and Halie Soifer, who was Harris’ foreign policy adviser until last May.
As was mentioned in Part 1, Soifer was also the Obama campaign’s Jewish outreach liaison in Florida in 2008 and an advisor to former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition, she was previously a speechwriter for the Israeli ambassador to the United States and was a “Next Generation National Security Fellow” with the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), which is headed by Victoria Nuland of the neo-conservative “Kagan clan” and Richard Fontaine, former foreign policy advisor to John McCain.
Harris’ current foreign policy adviser, Ariel Eckblad, is seemingly less controversial, given her youth, but previously worked for USAID, which many analysts have noted is involved in covert regime-change operations, and Chatham House, a British government-linked policy institute known for promoting regime change narratives in Syria, whose leadership is often linked to British or U.S. intelligence agencies.
“No corporate donors” (just CEOs, etc.)
In addition to having employed numerous Clinton and Obama staffers, Harris has also been busy privately courting their old donors. Notably, while she has been courting Clinton’s biggest and most influential donors during a series of private luncheons and meetings in the Hamptons, Harris’ fledgling campaign has been eager to portray her as a “crowd-funded” candidate. Indeed, when one visits Harris’ campaign website, a banner immediately appears that reads “Alert! Kamala refuses to accept donations from corporate PACS! Add your donation here.”
This same point has recently been touted by Harris’ campaign, which announced on Tuesday that the California senator had raised over $1.5 million in the first 24 hours after launching her campaign, numbers that ABC News said: “are comparable to those of Sen. Bernie Sandersduring his 2016 presidential campaign.” ABC quoted a Harris campaign aide as saying that “these numbers reveal a campaign powered by the people — an energetic, nationwide movement eager to elect Senator Harris and support her vision of an America that actually works for the people.”
However, recent polling data fails to show such a movement, with likely Democratic and left-leaning Independent voters strongly preferring Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke to Harris, whose favorability rating among likely left-leaning voters stands at only 36 percent.
Scouting out a more traditional funding trough, less than a year after becoming a senator, Harris — in July 2017 — spent two back-to-back weekends in the Hamptons.
During her first weekend in one of the country’s wealthiest residential areas, Harris attended a special event in her honor hosted by Michael Kempner, who the New York Post described as “a staunch Clinton supporter who was one of her national-finance co-chairs and a led fundraiser for her 2008 bid for the presidency. He was also listed as one of the top ‘bundlers’ for Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, having raised $3 million.” Other notable people Harris met with that weekend included Margo Alexander of Clinton’s “inner circle,” Democratic donor Dennis Mehiel, and Democratic National Committee member Robert Zimmerman.
Things apparently went so well that only a few days later, it was again reported that Harris would return the subsequent weekend to meet privately with then-”Hollywood liberal kingmaker” and now disgraced media mogul Harvey Weinstein, followed by another private meeting with former UN Ambassador Susan Rice as well as Citigroup’s Ray McGuire and PepsiCo’s Tony West. It is worth noting that Citigroup was revealed by WikiLeaks to have hand-picked the bulk of Barack Obama’s 2008 cabinet positions.
That same weekend, Harris also attended a fundraiser in her honor at the home of Charles E. Phillips — CEO of Infor and former executive at Morgan Stanley, who also supported Clinton’s 2016 campaign and was once an advisor to Obama — and another fundraiser hosted by influential telecom executive, Lisa Rosenblum. In addition, Harris also attended a second fundraiser at the home of MIchael Kempner over that weekend.
According to a source cited by the New York Post, Harris’ jam-packed schedule in one of the country’s ritziest neighborhoods was because “she’s on overdrive. It’s not just about the money . . . that’s the easy part for her. She wants to meet the influential.”
Though Harris’ campaign decision to turn down corporate funding is admirable, it is dishonest of the campaign to use this as a selling point, given that she has directly courted donations from mega-donors who head major corporations as well as members of Clinton’s “inner circle” and Democratic Party mega-donors. There is little tangible difference between accepting money from a corporation’s PAC and accepting money from corporate executives, in terms of its likely influence on a candidate’s policies.
“Will the real Kamala Harris . . .”
As this series has aimed to show, Kamala Harris has spent her relatively short career in the Senate promoting herself as a “progressive centrist” who aims to appeal to both progressives and centrists. However, given the stark divide between progressive Democrats and centrist Democrats in terms of policy, it is difficult to serve these “two masters” — meaning that one of these camps will inevitably be favored in terms of policy.
Given Harris’ tendency to keep activities that would damage her “progressive” public persona out of public view, as well as her connections to top Clinton donors and former staffers, her trajectory thus far evokes memories of the Clintonian “public” and “private” demarcation, in which the “private” position usually wins.
Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.