When you’re exploring a run for the presidency, it’s never too early to start buttering up potential campaign donors. That is likely what Hillary Clinton had in mind when she used a seemingly innocuous conference on women and girls in Little Rock, Arkansas as a platform to plug the controversial Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank of the United States.
Clinton announced that she was “a very strong supporter of the Ex-Im Bank, because it is a tool for us to be competitive in order to support our businesses exporting.” She then dismissed the argument of “those who wish to end the role of the Export-Import Bank,” saying “it’s not based on evidence, it’s based on ideology.”
Mrs. Clinton was presumably not just aiming to bolster the embattled bank itself, which came under attack this summer for, among other things, filling corporate coffers with taxpayer backed dollars and threatening American jobs. The former Secretary of State – whose coronation as the Democratic nominee in 2016 is generally assumed at this point – likely intended to send positive signals to a longtime mutual friend she and the bank share: the Boeing Corporation.
Boeing, by a wide margin, receives more of the Ex-Im Bank’s taxpayer-backed financing than any other single corporation – approximately $8 billion in FY 2013. So protective is Boeing of this relationship that over the summer, while Congress debated renewal of the Bank’s charter, they spent more than $4 million to lobby on its behalf. As America’s largest exporter, Boeing sells considerable amounts of aircraft to foreign airlines – and the Ex-Im Bank provides financing so that the foreign buyers get a sweetheart deal. These foreign airlines are often themselves wholly owned or heavily supported by their national governments.
One such deal with a state-owned airline provides a snapshot of the nexus between the Export-Import Bank, Boeing and Hillary Clinton.
In October 2009, Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, visited a Boeing plant in Moscow. She was “delighted,” she said in her remarks there, “that a new Russian airline, Rosavia, is actively considering the acquisition of Boeing aircraft.” She then made what she called “a shameless pitch for Rosavia … to buy Boeing aircraft.” Earlier in her speech, Clinton lauded the Ex-Im Bank’s “long history of supporting exports to Russia, including the sale of aircraft.” To drive her pitch home, she exhorted, “The Ex-Im Bank would welcome an application for financing from Rosavia to support its purchase of Boeing aircraft.”
A lengthy report in the Washington Post on Clinton’s “beneficial relationship” with Boeing lays out the subsequent chain of events.
Boeing made a formal bid for the Rosavia contract only three days after Clinton made her “shameless pitch.” Just over a month later, Boeing donated $2 million toward the United States’ pavilion at the Shanghai World’s Fair. The ability to make a substantive American showing at the fair was in doubt, and Clinton’s efforts – including securing the Boeing donation – were “widely credited with orchestrating a turnaround.” It was apparently of no concern that this donation, as reported by the Post, violated State Department ethics guidelines.