Ask the Clintons to Release Their Paid Speech Transcripts

MANCHESTER, NH - Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stops at Puritan Backroom for Super Bowl food and to meet New Hamp
MANCHESTER, NH - Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stops at Puritan Backroom for Super Bowl food and to meet New Hampshire voters in Manchester, New Hampshire on Sunday evening, February 7, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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The best question at last week's Democratic debate originated not with the moderators but apparently from a voter through New England Cable News who asked whether Secretary Clinton would release the transcripts of her private speeches to Goldman Sachs (for which Secretary Clinton was paid over $600,000 or about $3,333 a minute).

As well-coached as Secretary Clinton was for the debate, she didn't seemed prepped for this question. She gave a rather halting, ambiguous, answer that she would "look into it" releasing her speech transcripts. The Clinton campaign has since backtracked on releasing the transcripts.

$3,333 a minute in speaking fees from Wall Street Banks, drug companies, and other corporate interests is of far more interest to Democratic voters than Hillary's emails. The press should pursue this question with the same vigor as it has pursued the email story.

Reporters should ask Secretary Clinton to release hers and former President Clinton's paid speech transcripts since each left office every time they question her. Major news organizations should request the transcripts in writing. And voters should ask her for the transcripts at every Clinton campaign event.

Why is it so important for voters to have a chance to see the transcripts?

The race for the Democratic Presidential nomination has come down to a two-person race between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton. The heart of Senator Sander's campaign message is that the economic and political system is rigged to favor billionaires, Wall Street banks, and large corporations; and no meaningful change can take place until power is reclaimed by ordinary working class and middle class Americans.

Voters must decide whether or not, despite Secretary Clinton's impressive resume, she's a part of that rigged system. Secretary Clinton claims that she is not, that she has spent her life fighting the same special interests who have paid her and her husband tens of millions of dollars to give private speeches, and that any implication to the contrary is an "artful smear" by the Sanders campaign.

What those special interests paid her $3,333 a minute to discuss with them is relevant information for voters to have in order to determine if Senator Sanders or Secretary Clinton is right. The news media has an obligation to do everything in its power to obtain that information. Voters have the right to keep asking. And if Secretary Clinton won't release the transcripts, the news media should put its best investigative reporters to work finding sources who attended or worked at those private events who may be able to provide information on what was said.

In fact, rather than circling the wagons and protecting the secrecy of those speech transcripts, the Clinton's would be better off releasing them quickly, even if there are parts that might be embarrassing. The drip, drip, drip of partial disclosures could be far more damaging to Secretary Clinton than voluntarily releasing all the transcripts at once.

As common political wisdom since Watergate should have taught Secretary Clinton, it's not the deed but the cover-up that's generally the most politically damaging.

Secretary Clinton has challenged the Sanders campaign to come up with an example of a political contribution or paid speaking fee that changed her views or her vote. The Sanders campaign has come up with a least one example: Hillary's Senate vote for a pro-bank bankruptcy bill which, at least according to Elizabeth Warren, in an interview with Bill Moyers, was influenced by Wall Street money.

ELIZABETH WARREN The industry that gave the most money to Washington over the past few years was... credit [card banks].

BILL MOYERS: And Mrs. Clinton was one of them, as senator?

WARREN: She has taken money from these groups, and more to the point, she worries about them as a constituency.

MOYERS: So, can we ever have a government that works for everyday people... when our elected officials switch sides like that and pay more attention to the donors than to the voters?

WARREN: The government runs for those who can make their voices heard. And they mostly make their voices heard through their lobbyists, through their campaign contributions. And that means over and over and over the tilt is in favor of the rich and the powerful.

MOYERS: To be frank, Mrs. Clinton... is the embodiment of that establishment.

But whether or not there was ever a quid pro quo deal of money for a vote by the Clintons is not the central issues. The corruption of the American system by money in politics, the revolving door, and six-figure speaking fees to past and future leaders is rarely a matter of outright vote buying.

Rather, it's a matter of the corrosive corruption of the American republic as money buys access to politicians to shape the laws, and to set the parameters of acceptable debate.

It's not even that the every politicians who accepts the financial rewards from the billionaire class -- whether in the form of campaign contributions, highly paid employment once leaving office, or six figure speaking fees -- is necessarily evil. It's that they have bought into, and been captured by, a corrupt system in which money buys undue influence.

It's even possible for voters to like and respect Secretary Clinton but still conclude that the tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions, Clinton foundation donations, and speaking fees from the billionaire class make her too much a part of a corrupt system to bring the changes that America needs.

In any case, it's for voters to make that decision. And it's the media's responsibility to get them the information necessary to make an informed decision, including the transcripts of the Clintons' $3,333 a minute secret paid speeches.

If the media chooses not to pursue this story, it would be a dereliction of duty to the American people.