The Teflon Kingmaker

Is Terry McAuliffe corrupt, as his critics charge, or just especially good at playing the dirty game of politics? A fresh look at Mother Jones’ coverage of the new DNC chairman may help you decide.

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Terry McAuliffe, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is to political fundraising what Lee Atwater was to political advertising: successful, ruthless, and daring.

McAuliffe was a friend and money man to the Clinton administration from day one, raising campaign money both for Bill’s two presidential campaigns and Hillary’s Senate run, and organizing a multimillion dollar defense fund to defray legal costs associated with the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky scandals. Some now say that McAuliffe is positioning himself to help Hillary Clinton run for the White House in 2004.

Before he’d even moved into his new office, McAuliffe managed to anger both a large chunk of the Democratic party and the Bush White House. Black Democrats accused McAuliffe of hijacking the DNC election from Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, considered a shoo-in until McAuliffe threw his hat in the ring in December with endorsements from both Bill Clinton and Al Gore. And in his acceptance speech on February 3, McAuliffe fired this broadside at George W.: “If Katherine Harris, Jeb Bush, Jim Baker, and the US Supreme Court hadn’t tampered with the results, Al Gore would be president, George Bush would be back in Austin, and John Ashcroft would be home reading Southern Partisan magazine.”

McAuliffe is the kind of loose cannon who can be both boon and bane to a political campaign and party. A day after his election to the DNC, the man who raised the acquisition of soft money to an art form went on “Meet the Press” to say, “Let’s just get rid of all soft money, from labor unions, corporations, everybody. Take it off the table. There is too much money in the political process.” This from the man Gore has called “the greatest fundraiser in the world.”

McAuliffe has an uncanny ability to slip out of potential trouble unscathed. The fundraising scandals surrounding Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign — including the White House coffees and Lincoln bedroom sleepovers, both of which were McAuliffe’s ideas — seemed to roll off McAuliffe’s back. After repeatedly claiming that he had nothing to do with the DNC-related soft money scandals, saying he only raised funds specifically earmarked for Clinton’s presidential reelection, McAuliffe eventually admitted having raised between $3 million and $5 million for the DNC. Still, he managed largely to dodge the spotlight.

Likewise, McAuliffe avoided a potentially career-ending scandal in 1997, when the Department of Justice investigated a number of his real estate and campaign financing deals — one involving Ron Carey, disgraced former president of the Teamsters who was indicted this week on charges of perjury — which to GOP observers looked an awful lot like the result of influence peddling. The accusations against McAuliffe in those cases were later dropped.

More recently, while McAuliffe was raising money for Hillary Clinton’s Senate run, he offered to put up $1.35 million of his own money to help the Clintons buy their house in Chappaqua, NY. Public criticism of the arrangement prompted the Clintons to opt for the common man’s home-buying approach: They took out a mortgage. Still McAuliffe’s offer serves as a loan guarantee, which critics say constitutes an illegal gratuity.

Back in 1997, we looked into McAuliffe’s career, from his start as a campaign worker with Jimmy Carter’s doomed 1980 reelection campaign to the DOJ investigation of his business dealings in the 1990s. Below, we’ve provided links to some of our investigations into McAuliffe to help you decide whether he is corrupt — or just especially good at playing the dirty game of politics.


Big Game HunterMother Jones, April 1997
Fundraiser Terry McAuliffe knew how to bag big donors for President Clinton, but has the stalker now become the prey?

McAuliffe, Inc.Mother Jones, April 1997
The Department of Justice appears to be investigating real estate deals in which Clinton’s chief fundraiser may have profited from political connections.

The Boy Wonder Comes of Age Mother Jones, April 1997
A map of McAuliffe’s cash-strewn career path.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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