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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Buying Endorsements

The Queen of Pork

Nobody doles out taxpayer money like Hillary Clinton — or rakes in as much campaign cash from the companies she does favors for

MATT TAIBBI

One Sunday about three months ago — on the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in fact — I got out of bed very late and lazily switched on CNN. On the TV screen, Sen. Hillary Clinton was smiling broadly and wearing a black jacket over some strange Oriental get-up. She was standing next to influential black pastor Calvin Butts, in front of the latter's famous Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Camera bulbs were flashing. An important announcement was about to be made.

Butts, it turns out, was endorsing Hillary over Barack Obama in the upcoming New York primary. I raised an eyebrow. It's not that I expected Butts — perhaps the most prominent black minister in New York — to automatically endorse Obama simply because he is black. But I certainly didn't expect to see Butts go on national television and make swipe after thinly veiled swipe at Obama, sounding like he was reading a script prepared for him by Hillary's campaign team.

"This is no time for waiting or hoping for solutions," quipped Butts, making an obvious reference to The Audacity of Hope author Obama and echoing the hope-ain't-shit theme that had been pounded on the campaign trail by the Clinton camp over and over again.

The predominantly black crowd barely had time to scratch its collective head and ask what the hell was going on before the endorsement party abruptly ended, leaving the stunned audience to break out in scattered boos and dueling chants of "Harlem for Obama!" and "Hillary! Hillary!" The strange scene left some in the audience wondering what exactly they'd just seen. "What's frustrating about ministers endorsing candidates," an Obama supporter named Rafael Mason wondered to a reporter, "is it makes you question if their decision is representative of the church or if there's a backroom discussion going on."

Months later, while researching pork-barrel spending by the presidential candidates, I came across three federal budgetary awards requested by Hillary Clinton in this fiscal year:
$446,500 Abyssinian Development Corporation, New York, to support and expand youth and young-adult after-school and summer programs (Discretionary Grants — Juvenile Justice Programs) COM 08 D Rangel Schumer Clinton
$893,000 Abyssinian Development Corporation programs for at-risk youth, New York (Discretionary Grants — Juvenile Justice Programs) COM 08 D Rangel Clinton Schumer
$146,000 Abyssinian Development Corporation, to support and expand youth- and family-displacement prevention programs (Social Services — Department of Health and Human Services) LABHHS 08 D Clinton Schumer

If you haven't already guessed, Calvin Butts is the chairman of the Abyssinian Development Corporation. The above-mentioned $1.5 million in federal funds that Hillary requested on behalf of Butts' organization had been approved by Congress a month before she received the minister's timely endorsement. Maybe the minister was following his conscience in endorsing Hillary — but then, it never hurts to have a little financial incentive when it comes to difficult decisions like these, does it?

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