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Clintons' InfoUSA Ties Scrutinized

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Clintons' InfoUSA Ties Scrutinized

Election 2008

Clintons' InfoUSA Ties Scrutinized

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Political campaigns spend thousands even millions of dollars to acquire good mailing lists. Last year, Hillary Clinton took the unusual step of renting out some of her lists.

As NPR's Peter Overby reports, the transaction again highlights Hillary and Bill Clinton's connections to a businessman who now faces questions from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

PETER OVERBY: Reports from Hillary Clinton's campaign showed that on December 3rd, it collected payment for renting out three mailing lists. Total income: $8,250. It was an unusual transaction.

Mr. ROGER CRAVER (Founder, CMS): As a general rule, a campaign will not let its donor list out into the markets until the campaign is over.

OVERBY: Roger Craver, a liberal guru of the political direct mail industry, explains why campaigns are so careful.

Mr. CRAVER: This is the mother's milk of small-gift fundraising, and they use these lists frequently.

OVERBY: There are no records that any other presidential candidate rented out mailing lists last year.

I spoke with people in political consulting and in direct mail. Almost none of them would speak for attribution. They were surprised by the deal itself and by the low price, just over $8,000. According to a direct-mail professional, 800,000 seems more plausible for a quality list.

A political consultant suggested it could have been a test run for the list broker's unidentified client. And most intriguing of all was the renter, a list brokerage company that belongs to one of the data collection the industry has tightened, Info U.S.A.

Info U.S.A.'s CEO is Vinod Gupta, a close ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Gupta's empire also includes the Opinion Research Corporation, which conducts the political polling for the television network CNN.

Vin Gupta has a long history of giving and raising campaign money for the Clintons, and gave $1 million for the 2000 Millennium Celebration.

As president, Bill Clinton named Gupta to the Kennedy Center board, and Gupta got to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. He gave another million to the Clinton Presidential Library. The library is run by the National Archives, but Bill Clinton raised the money for its construction and always refused to identify those big donors.

Last fall, ABC News reported that the library rented out a portion of the list to a broker — the same one that rented Hillary Clinton's campaign lists.

Gupta spent $900,000 of corporate money flying the Clintons to various destinations. The Clinton campaign said in May that Info U.S.A. had been reimbursed to comply with federal campaigning and ethics rules.

And after the Clintons left the White House, Gupta hired Bill Clinton as a consultant. It's one of two continuing business relationships Bill Clinton has had since leaving office, and it has been worth $3.3 million, plus the options on 100,000 shares of stock.

Gupta, challenged over that outlay, has said Clinton is worth $40 million to the company.

Kevin Starke is a stock analyst in Connecticut who follows Gupta's company.

Mr. KEVIN STARKE (Stock Analyst): If it were me, and I had hired Bill Clinton to the tune of $3 million, I think I would try to make a fairly distinct case for why that was money well spent, and I'm not entirely clear on why he hasn't done so.

OVERBY: The corporate spending on behalf of the Clintons helped fuel a shareholder lawsuit against Gupta and 10 corporate directors.

There are plenty of other allegations in the suit about homes, cars, and a yacht for Gupta. A Delaware chancery court judge dismissed some of the allegations involving the Clintons. But the case is still proceeding. It has led to an informal inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is also asking if Gupta misspent corporate funds.

Again, analyst Kevin Starke.

Mr. STARKE: It's not a company that's threatened with bankruptcy or anything like that. It needs probably to be run with more of a view toward generating value for all shareholders, and not just the main shareholder.

OVERBY: Info U.S.A. did not respond to interview requests this week.

The Clinton campaign said Wednesday that the lists were rented out by Clinton's 2006 Senate campaign committee — in fact, that the rentals took place before she began her formal campaign for president last January.

That would mean the rental fees went unpaid for at least 11 months. Starke, the analyst, cites Info U.S.A. data showing that on average, it settles accounts within 64 days.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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