Hillary Clinton told donors at a private fundraiser in New York last Thursday that she plans as president to create a "national infrastructure bank" modeled on the Clinton Global Initiative, according to a recording of her remarks obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
This was the first time that Clinton, who has long supported the formation of a government-controlled bank to invest in national infrastructure projects, cited the Clinton Global Initiative—the flagship arm of her family’s controversial foundation—as an investment model for her proposed bank.
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Clinton said CGI’s "public-private" partnership with labor unions has created tens of thousands of jobs, and argued that a federal infrastructure bank could take on this type of project.
"Think of what we can do on a national scale," said Clinton.
Clinton’s plan for a national infrastructure bank dovetails with the financial interests of some of her most prominent supporters. Her comments could also give ammunition to critics who say that the Clintons’ philanthropic operations, including CGI, have been plagued with conflicts of interest and financial mismanagement.
"I want to see if we can create what is called an infrastructure bank," said Clinton. "It’s like a revolving loan fund so we can take it out of to a great extent the annual fight over appropriations. If we can get it funded with a combination of public and private funds, we can do this."
Clinton cited as an example a $15 billion project she said the Clinton Global Initiative is running with labor union pension funds to train people for "clean energy work."
"The Clinton Global Initiative that my husband started has a project with a lot of labor union pension funds. They have put $15 billion into a fund to train workers to be able to do energy efficiency and other clean energy work," said Clinton. "Think of what we can do on a national scale. … There is no doubt in my mind this is a win-win."
The Clinton fundraiser was hosted at the Greenwich Village home of John Zaccaro, a convicted felon. Clinton did not take questions after her remarks, which is unusual for a prominent candidate at a closed-door fundraising event.
Clinton's campaign website says the proposal would "leverage public and private capital to invest in critically important infrastructure projects, including energy infrastructure projects."
Supporters of such a bank say it would help spur investment and job creation by letting the private sector invest in public projects. But the concept has also been criticized as a magnet for cronyism that could allow government officials to hand out loans to allies as political favors.
"The basic premise is if we throw enough public and private money into a bucket and then let private parties sort of draw on it to build better roads, the whole problem will sort itself out," said Adam J. White, counsel at Boyden Gray & Associates, a law firm that focuses on federal regulation. "That strikes me at best a recipe for a failed transportation policy and at worst an opportunity for wasting billions of dollars."
White said recent controversies over the green energy company Solyndra and the Export-Import bank also show the potential for "favoritism, waste, politicalization."
Clinton’s plan could also be a windfall for some of her top financial supporters.
One likely beneficiary would be Robert Wolf, a Clinton donor and former bundler for the Obama campaign who previously chaired UBS Americas. Wolf runs the consulting firm 32 Advisors, which has contributed between $10,000 and $25,000 to the Clinton Foundation.
The firm announced the formation of a new infrastructure practice in April to help clients obtain funding for infrastructure projects. It brought on Michael Likosky, an expert in infrastructure financing and government planning, to lead the practice. Likosky has also advised CGI on infrastructure projects, and billed himself in July as "an Expert to the Clinton Initiative."
Another donor that could benefit from a national infrastructure bank is Mary Scott Nabers, head of the consulting firm Strategic Partnerships, Inc. The firm helps clients to procure government contracts for public-private infrastructure projects. Nabers has contributed between $10,000 and $25,000 to the Clinton Foundation.
Labor unions, which represent a major voting bloc and well of financial support for Clinton, would also benefit significantly from a national infrastructure bank.
Union officials said they hoped that their project with CGI—which was cited by Clinton at her recent fundraiser—would help "spur creation of a National Infrastructure Bank to spur subsidized bonds for public works projects," the Chicago Tribune reported in 2011.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.