WikiLeaks hack reveals cozy relationship between Clinton campaign, super PAC

A top attorney for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Kanye West 'not denying' his campaign seeks to damage Biden MORE’s presidential campaign sent a memo to campaign aides teaching them how to legally communicate with a pro-Clinton super PAC, emails released Monday by WikiLeaks show.

While Clinton has claimed her campaign has nothing to do with the super PAC Priorities USA, a leaked email from the personal account of Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, suggests differently.


In the email, Clinton attorney Marc Elias outlined what is basically a strategy for steering large campaign donors to the super PAC without breaking the law.

Elias told Clinton campaign officials it would be OK to tell staff at the super PAC: “Donor A works in financial services and has been a long-time contributor. I think she’d be willing to do six figures for Priorities.”

But not recommended, writes Elias, would be for the Clinton campaign official to say to a super PAC official: “I want you to call Donor A and ask for $250,000.”

Super PACs are independent groups that can spend as much as they wish to boost a candidate so long as staffers at the outside group don’t coordinate strategy or messaging with the campaign. 

Priorities USA supports Clinton’s presidential bid and raised more than $150 million from donors like hedge fund billionaire George Soros.

During a PBS debate against Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election Warren urges investment in child care workers amid pandemic Progressive candidate Bush talks about her upset primary win over Rep. Clay MORE (I-Vt.) in February, Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, claimed she had nothing to do with the group.

"You're referring to a super PAC that we don't coordinate with,” said Clinton. “It’s not my PAC.” 

In practice, super PACs have become multimillion-dollar arms of presidential and congressional campaigns. As The Hill reported early in the 2016 cycle, political operatives are now treating the vague laws walling off super PACs from campaigns as almost a joke.

The WikiLeaks emails will reinforce the view that the Democratic nominee’s campaign and super PAC are, for practical purposes, one and the same. 

“From time to time, Priorities might request [Hillary for America] to speak to prospective donors about Priorities – either before or after Priorities’ contact with the donor,” the attorneys from the D.C. law firm Perkins Coie tell the Clinton aides in the Elias memo.

“When HFA staff or consultants speak to these prospective donors about Priorities, they must include a hard money ask (for $5,000 or less) during the course of the conversation. We have provided you with scripts and talking points for such conversations.” 

Recipients of the email included Podesta, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, campaign finance chairman Dennis Cheng, and longtime Clinton confidants Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin.

The lawyers also suggested language — and actions — that campaign officials and Clinton could use to thank donors for giving to the super PAC without running afoul of the law. 

“We understand that Priorities would like to provide its larger donors with a ‘presidential club’ pin,” the lawyers say. 

“That, of course, is permissible,” the lawyers say. “It is also permissible for Secretary Clinton, HFA staffers, or HFA agents to thank donors who reach this giving level.

“However,” the lawyers stress, “the ‘thank you’ message cannot be coupled with a solicitation for additional funds. It should be limited to phrases such as: ‘Thank you for your support for Priorities.’ ”

The Clinton lawyers warned that fundraising staffers at Priorities USA “need to take care to not tell prospective donors that they are soliciting funds on behalf of or at the request, suggestion, or direction of the Secretary, an HFA staffer, or any HFA campaign agent.”

“Nor should the fundraising personnel suggest this,” the lawyers add, “through phrases such as, ‘It would mean a lot to Secretary Clinton for you to give to Priorities’ or ‘I know that Secretary Clinton would appreciate it if you gave to the Super PAC.’ ”

Asked about the fundraising email Monday, Clinton campaign spokesman Glen Caplin said it was “absolutely disgraceful” that the Trump campaign “is cheering on a release today engineered by [Russian President] Vladimir Putin to interfere in this election.” 

Caplin was referring to a tweet Monday by Jason Miller, a spokesman for Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE, in which he promotes the WikiLeaks hacked emails. The U.S. government says it believes the Russian government is trying to influence the election through hacks, including an intrusion on the Democratic National Committee’s email system. 

“The timing shows you that even Putin knows Trump had a bad weekend and a bad debate,” Caplin said, though he did not engage with the substance of the email regarding contact between the Clinton campaign and the super PAC.

Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, says the Clinton campaign shouldn’t be blamed for finding careful ways to navigate the laws governing campaigns and super PACs. 

“It looks like Clinton campaign trying to comply with law on Super PACs,” Hasen tweeted Monday, linking to the WikiLeaks emails.

“To be clear,” he added, “the law on Super PACs is awful and allows a huge amount of actual coordination. But blame #SCOTUS, the DC Circuit, & FEC.”