Back in February, I wrote that Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton's Goldman Sachs speech fees ultimately do not matter within the context of her campaign. My reasoning was that she had given these speeches after she had stepped down from public office and that releasing the speeches could violate a contract.
In terms of the speeches themselves, and the high fees Clinton received for making them, I maintain that they have no bearing on Clinton as a candidate for president. And it's about time that Clinton's rival Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont move on and find something new to talk about.
The accusations that Clinton is completely bought and sold by Goldman Sachs ignores the fact that other types of organizations have also donated millions of dollars to Clinton's campaign; after all, save for Sanders and Republican front-runner Donald Trump, this is how the game is played.
Does Clinton, like almost every other presidential candidate on either side of the aisle, want the financial backing that these large corporations can provide? Almost certainly. But does that mean she is beholden to them during her presidency? Absolutely not. Look at President Barack Obama, for instance: He was backed by many big-name corporations during his elections but has continued to crack down on Wall Street, most recently with a tax inversion measure which will help prevent companies from utilizing off-shore tax havens.
But Clinton's failure to get out in front of these accusations, which have mostly been leveled by Sanders and his supporters, is damaging Clinton's public image and could hurt her in the general election.
This could be clearly seen in Democratic debate in Brooklyn, New York, on April 14. Clinton was widely regarded by commentators to have had the better debate of the two candidates, but when the issue of her transcripts came up, Sanders hit her hard and the attack stuck. Clinton was actively booed by the audience when she sarcastically said she would release her transcripts when "everybody does it," according to Mass Live.
When Clinton pointed out that she had called out bankers for their behavior during the mortgage crisis of 2007-08, it seemed to be the exact answer Sanders had been hoping for. He seized the opportunity with a biting criticism: "Hillary Clinton 'called them out.' They must've been really crushed by this. Was that before or after you received huge sums of money after giving speaking engagements behind closed doors? [They] must've been very upset."
Clinton's repeated evasions and non-answers to questions about this issue are only providing her opponents -- both Sanders and her Republican rivals -- with more ammunition to use against her. The speeches themselves may be harmless, but the refusal to release or even acknowledge the contents of what might have been said during those speeches gives credibility to the charge that Clinton is a privileged insider who cares more about protecting her connections in high places than about reassuring voters that her presidency will not be overly influenced by a small group of high-income Americans.
As Vox's Jeff Stein points out, the larger implicit truth which has been revealed in Clinton's various non-responses to questions about the speeches is that Clinton -- and her husband -- either don't know why or don't care that many potential voters, both within the Democratic base and outside of it, would see the transcripts as something to be suspicious about.
It may be that the money Clinton accepted from Goldman Sachs has little to no effect on how she governs, should she be elected president. But a large number of Americans distrust Clinton even if they think she has the necessary experience, and her unwillingness to address voter concerns about the need for transparency in politics may come back to haunt her.
Clinton would be best off releasing the transcripts, even if it means she has to consult with Goldman Sachs over whether or not the contractual language allows for it. If the content of the speeches is really as harmless as many have said, then releasing them can only help Clinton, and it could also serve to take the wind out of Bernie's sails.
But there is absolutely no advantage in continuing to hide these transcripts from the voters.