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How Clinton Campaign Chose Not To Ban Funds Raised By Foreign Registered Agents

Emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, which were published by WikiLeaks, reveal details on how the campaign decided whether to allow “foreign registered agents” to raise money for them. One email even lists the names of 23 individuals out of more than 350 prospective bundlers considered by the campaign.

On April 13, 2015, Dennis Cheng, the campaign’s finance director, said, “We really need [to] make a policy decision on this soon—whether we are allowing those lobbying on behalf of foreign governments to raise [money] for the campaign,” or whether a decision would be made on a case-by-case basis.

Karuna Seshasai, a campaign staff member involved in reviewing bundlers, shared a list, which included such foreign registered agents as Tony Podesta, who represented the interests of Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Egypt; John Merrigan, who represented the interests of the United Arab Emirates; and Ben Barnes and Wyeth Wiedeman, who represented the national board trying to recover looted and disguised funds for the transitional government of Libya.

Seshasai indicated if the campaign chose to make decisions on a case-by-case basis she would flag Podesta, Merrigan, Barnes, and Wiedeman.

As described on the Justice Department’s website, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is a “disclosure statute that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.”

In simpler terms, Americans who raise money on behalf of foreign governments have to register with the United States government.

On April 14, Seshasai summarized a conference call, writing, “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.” However, no final decision was made yet.

Cheng urged everyone to come to a consensus as soon as possible, “as our friends who happen to be registered with FARA are already donating and raising.” He pushed back, “I feel like we are leaving a good amount of money on the table,” both for the primary and the general election and then for the Democratic National Committee and state parties.

“How do we explain to people that we’ll take money from a corporate lobbyist but not them?” Cheng asked. Or that the Clinton Foundation takes money from foreign governments but now the campaign won’t?

Marc Elias, a general counsel for the campaign, discouraged a “bright line rule.”

“It seems odd to say that someone who represents Alberta, Canada can’t give, but a lobbyist for Phillip Morris can,” Elias suggested. “Just as we vet lobbyists case by case, I would do the same with FARA. While this may lead to a large number of FARA registrants being denied, it would not be a flat out ban. A total ban feels arbitrary and will engender the same eye-rolling and ill will that it did for Obama.”

Elias additionally advocated the campaign look at “who the donor is and what foreign entity they are registered for. In judging whether to take the money, we would consider the relationship between that country and the United States, its relationship to the State Department during Hillary’s time as Secretary, and its relationship, if any, to the Foundation.”

“In judging the individual, we would look at their history of support for political candidates generally and Hillary’s past campaigns specifically,” Elias continued. “Put simply, we would use the same criteria we use for lobbyists, except with a somewhat more stringent screen.”

By April 16, Cheng suggested the campaign was near the “point of no return” and needed to make a decision.

Robby Mook, campaign manager, responded later that day, “Marc [Elias] made a convincing case to me this am that these sorts of restrictions don’t really get you anything,” and, “Obama actually got judged MORE harshly as a result. He convinced me.”

“So, in a complete U-turn, I’m okay just taking the money and dealing with any attacks. Are you guys okay with that?” Mook asked.

Jennifer Palmieri, the campaign’s communications director, replied, “Take the money!”

By this time, Podesta had donated $5,000 to Clinton’s super political action committee, Ready PAC, which was started to “push” her to run for president. Barnes donated $5,000. Merrigan donated $2,700 on April 15, the same period when this discussion took place within the campaign.

The following are the other lobbyists registered as foreign agents, who the campaign believed would help raise money for their campaign:

—Imaad Zuberi of Beltway Government Strategies, Inc., who represented the Office of the Monitoring MP for the Ministry of External Affairs of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

—Heather Podesta, who represented the interests of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States.

—John Breaux of Patton Boggs, who represented the interests of the Kurdistan regional government

—Jonathan Jones of Peck Madigan Jones, who represented the Embassy of New Zealand

—Michael Smith of Cornerstone Government Affairs, who represented the Justice Equality Movement Embassy of the Republic of Korea

—Paul Brathwaite of the Podesta Group, who represented the Embassy of Japan, Federal Republic of Somalia

—Tom Daschle of the Daschle Group, who represented the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States

—Larry Rasky of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, who represented the Socialist Party of Albania and the Serbia Investment and Export Promotion Agency

—David Castagnetti of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, who represented the Embassy of Panama and province of Alberta, Canada

—Gerald Cassidy of Cassidy & Associates

—Gov. Jim Blanchard of DLA Piper US LLP

—James “Jimmy Ryan of Elmendorf Ryan, who represented the Colombian Foreign Investment and Export Promotion Agency

—John Quinn of Quinn Gillespie & Associates, who represented the Japan External Trade Organization

—Kelly Bingel of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, who represented the Embassy of Panama and province of Alberta, Canada

—Mike Driver of Patton Boggs, who represented the Al-Hamar Trading Group

—Norm Brownstein of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck

—Steve Elmendorf of Elmendorf Ryan, who represented the Colombia Foreign Investment and Export Promotion Agency

—Vic Fazio of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, who represented the Hong Kong Trade Development Council

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."