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Clinton's economic plans likely to boost her corporate donors

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A look at Hillary Clinton's most generous financial backers reveals she has enjoyed the support of companies positioned to reap the benefits of her ambitious spending projects. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Hillary Clinton spent the past two weeks rolling out economic proposals that include the "biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II" and a tax hike on corporations and the wealthy, which could create lucrative opportunities for many of the corporations that have lined her campaign coffers.

She has proposed refurbishing the electrical grid to make it "clean," and establishing a government-run bank that would steer taxpayer funds toward the private companies that are chosen to implement her projects. One ambitious aspect of her plan involves extending broadband access to every American household by 2020.

Similar efforts launched by President Obama through the 2009 stimulus package have yielded little more than boondoggles for companies that lined up to take public money. However, Clinton indicated at a campaign stop in Michigan last week that she would pursue the same formula as part of her economic agenda.

"Here's something you don't always hear enough from Democrats. A big part of our plan will be unleashing the power of the private sector to create more jobs at higher pay," Clinton said. "And that means for us: creating an infrastructure bank to get private funds off the sidelines and complement our public investments. $25 billion in government seed funding could unlock more than $250 billion."

In Ohio Wednesday, she doubled down on proposals to invest taxpayer money in green energy and universal broadband coverage.

"We need a new, modern electric grid that can take and distribute clean, renewable energy across America," Clinton said at a tax fairness event in Cleveland. "And we need to finally finish the job of connecting homes and businesses everywhere in America, from inner cities to remote rural areas, to high speed broadband access."

A look at Clinton's most generous financial backers reveals she has enjoyed the support of companies positioned to reap the benefits of her ambitious spending projects.

Broadband proposal

The existing push to expand broadband coverage has already squandered billions of taxpayer dollars while leaving communities across the country unplugged from the networks to which they were promised access.

With funding routed through the Rural Utilities Service, an arm of the Department of Agriculture, many of the guaranteed loans issued to broadband companies were never repaid because projects failed and companies folded before even beginning their work.

The Federal Communication Commission's Connect America fund has also funneled money into the broadband expansion effort, offering more than $10 billion in subsidies to major carriers like Verizon and AT&T so they would maintain networks in remote areas that they might have otherwise avoided given the lack of a viable market.

Despite the $7.2 billion in broadband grants and loans that was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, roughly 34 million people still lack access to what the FCC presently defines as high-speed digital service.

Deborah Collier, director of technology and telecommunications policy for Citizens Against Government Waste, said it was poor planning, not cronyism, that tanked Obama's rural broadband initiative.

"What we saw was a lot of wasteful, duplicative spending with broadband infrastructure," Collier told the Washington Examiner. "I hate to see the government dive in and do another stimulus without ensuring there are mechanisms in place to avoid wasteful spending."

A June 2014 report from the Government Accountability Office slammed the Rural Utilities Service for withholding data about where its more than $3 billion in broadband funding had gone over the previous five years. Out of 297 planned projects, only 39 were fully operational by the time of the review.

The Department of Agriculture quietly shrunk its projections from 7 million new broadband subscribers to fewer than 730,000.

"We are left with a program that spent $3 billion, and we really don't know what became of it," said Mark Goldstein, a GAO investigator, in a Politico report about the Rural Utilities Service that was published last year.

But Clinton has pledged to forge ahead with the same policies, vowing to accomplish in three years what the Obama administration failed to do in eight.

A look at her top donors and bundlers shows the support Internet service providers have rained on Clinton in preparation for and during her presidential bid.

For example, Verizon paid Clinton $225,000 for a speech in Washington, D.C., in May 2013.

The firm's CEO, Lowell McAdam, waded into the Democratic primary in April when he called Sen. Bernie Sanders' views "contemptible."

Executives at Verizon have also given heavily to Clinton's presidential campaign.

Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president at AT&T and veteran of the Reagan administration, publicly endorsed Clinton earlier this year despite admitting that he had supported every Republican candidate for president since 1976. Clinton's campaign has received roughly $120,000 from the ranks of AT&T, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Time Warner is among the top 10 donors to Clinton's presidential campaign.

David Cohen, a Comcast executive, hosted a fundraiser for Clinton at his Philadelphia home in June.

Steve Elmendorf, a lobbyist for Verizon, has bundled $141,815 for Clinton's campaign. Alfred Mottur, a lobbyist for Comcast, bundled $67,925. David Leiter, a lobbyist for Charter Communications, bundled $36,550.

Michael Smith, a lobbyist for CenturyLink, bundled $26,000 in contributions for Clinton. Smith is listed on disclosure forms as having lobbied Congress specifically on the issue of Connect America funding on behalf of CenturyLink.

Through that FCC program, CenturyLink accepted $506 million in subsidies last year.

Clean energy proposal

Clinton's plan to overhaul the electrical grid with cleaner technology echoes the environment-friendly promises Obama struggled to keep once he moved from the campaign trail to the White House.

Obama's push to hand out grants and underwrite loans for well-connected green energy companies at the outset of his administration highlighted the political pitfalls that can accompany projects whose completion depends on the participation of donor industries.

The $535 million loan guarantee provided to Solyndra, a California-based solar company that failed spectacularly in 2011, became the subject of fierce controversy after a review discovered the Department of Energy had rushed approval for the deal at the behest of the White House.

Critics suspected the taxpayer-backed loan was spared scrutiny because Solyndra's biggest investors included George Kaiser, a bundler for Obama's presidential campaign.

Kaiser hosted a fundraiser for Clinton at his Oklahoma home in December.

The litany of Obama's failed green energy investments extends far beyond Solyndra, the most infamous of the dozens of companies that netted grants or taxpayer-backed loans from his Department of Energy.

Abound Solar imploded after drawing $70 million of a $400 million loan guarantee in another deal that sparked outrage over the involvement of an Obama donor.

Pat Stryker, founder of Bohemian Companies, purchased an equity stake in Abound in 2008, just months before she gave $50,000 to Obama's inauguration and roughly a year before the Energy Department presented her company with the loan.

Stryker's Bohemian Foundation is among the top 20 donors to Clinton's campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. During the primary race, Stryker's big-ticket contributions to Clinton placed her among the most generous financial backers of the 2016 cycle.

Clinton is poised to perpetuate Obama's clean energy policies should she win in November. Her campaign enjoys the support of many of the same Democratic donors and environmental activists that gave Obama his presidency.

What's more, her previously-stated goal of installing half a billion solar panels by the end of her first term could prove highly profitable to firms that are filling her coffers.

Curtis Kalin, a spokesman for Citizens Against Government Waste, called such programs "havens for cronyism."

"Hiking federal spending on green energy ventures has proven to be fiscally perilous for taxpayers," Kalin said. "Taxpayers should not be left holding the reusable cloth bag when these risky projects inevitably fail."

First Solar, Inc. and NRG Energy — the two largest solar contractors in the country, according to Solar Power World — have both given significant contributions to the Clinton Foundation.

The fourth-largest solar energy company, SolarCity, tapped the Podesta Group to lobby the government on its behalf. The powerful lobbying shop was founded by Tony and John Podesta, the latter of whom now chairs Clinton's presidential campaign.

Nick Pritzker, co-founder of the Clean Energy Trust, is brother to the siblings who run the eponymous Pritzker Group that has given more than $7.8 million to Clinton's campaign. His Clean Energy Trust won a $250,000 federal grant for its work with renewable energy startups last year from the Commerce Department, which is incidentally headed by Pritzker's sister.

Heather Podesta, who has bundled $31,150 for Clinton, lobbies for NextEra Energy, a major solar company. NextEra executives have given an additional $31,000 to Clinton's campaign.

Clinton has raked in donations from Invenergy, Sunpower Corp., SunRun Inc. and other solar or renewable energy companies.