Bill Clinton said that his “roots in politics” were formed trying to buy votes in Arkansas during his first run for Congress, according to the audio diary kept by his friend and biographer Taylor Branch.
Clinton discussed buying votes with Branch in July 1997 after he returned from the funeral of Hilary Jones, a politically-connected Arkansas man Clinton met during his unsuccessful campaign to unseat Republican John Hammerschmidt in 1974.
Clinton held Jones in high regard. Clinton had a standing presidential order for his staff to drag him to Jones’ funeral whether he was “drunk or sober,” according to Branch, who was chosen by Clinton to conduct dozens of interviews during his presidency that ultimately culminated in his book, The Clinton Tapes.
“Hilary Jones used to make him laugh until he cried with stories of how they competed in buying votes,” said Branch of Clinton’s and Jones’ relationship, according to audio obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
“In a tiny little county like that with only a weekly newspaper and no radio station, they were spending $30,000, each party, in elections,” said Branch. That money was spent “buying and competing over votes amongst old bootleggers and people like that.”
Jones knew exactly what the vote count was going to be before election day in his counties because he knew everybody in them—and whether or not he had paid them to vote Democrat.
They had buying votes down to such a science that they could tell when somebody didn’t follow through on a deal just by looking at vote counts.
“Jones looked at the vote and said, ‘Smith double-crossed us,’” Clinton said, according to Branch. “The vote was 57-20. It was supposed to be 60-17. The three Smiths took our money and must have voted the other way.”
Jones didn’t consider the three lost votes a sunk cost. He drove to the Smith’s house the next day to confront them and actually got his bribe money returned to him.
“That’s the way they did politics up there,” said Clinton, who said the trip down memory lane at Jones’ funeral “took him back to his roots in politics.”
“A lot of what Clinton learned about politics he learned from those counties,” said Branch.
The Clinton Foundation did not respond to an inquiry into the extent of Clinton’s involvement in vote-buying.
Jones first worked with Clinton during the election against Hammerschmidt in 1974, and then worked with him on his multiple runs for Arkansas governor. As governor, Clinton appointed Jones to be head of the state’s Game and Fish Commission.
He remained a political ally and friend when Clinton moved to the White House, where Jones was invited to stay as an overnight guest in the Lincoln Bedroom.
“From the day I met him until the day I flew home from the White House to speak at his funeral, Hilary Jones was my man in Newton County,” wrote Clinton in his book, My Life.
In his funeral speech, Clinton mentioned Jones’ uncanny ability to predict vote counts. He attributed this ability to how “passionate” Jones was about politics, not to the fact that he was paying people to vote Democrat.
“He was so passionate about politics that, when I first met him, he could actually look at the vote totals in Newton County, precinct by precinct, and tell you whether a family had told him the truth or not about how they were going to vote,” Clinton said.
None of the stories Clinton told Branch about how he and Jones used to buy votes made the pages of Branch’s book. They are also left out of Clinton’s lengthy discussions of Jones in My Life.