To hear Hillary Clinton talk, she’s spent her entire career putting her Yale Law School degree to work for the common good.
She routinely tells voters that she’s “been working to bring positive change to people’s lives for 35 years.” She told a voter in New Hampshire: “I’ve spent so much of my life in the nonprofit sector.” Speaking in South Carolina, Bill Clinton said his wife “could have taken a job with a firm … Instead she went to work with Marian Wright Edelman at the Children’s Defense Fund.”
The overall portrait is of a lifelong, selfless do-gooder. The whole story is more complicated — and less flattering.
Clinton worked at the Children’s Defense Fund for less than a year, and that’s the only full-time job in the nonprofit sector she’s ever had. She also worked briefly as a law professor.
Clinton spent the bulk of her career — 15 of those 35 years — at one of Arkansas’ most prestigious corporate law firms, where she represented big companies and served on corporate boards.
The full truth doesn’t fit into the carefully crafted narrative the campaign has developed about Clinton, said Sally Bedell Smith, the author of “For Love of Politics,” a study of the Clintons’ partnership.
“She wants to be seen as someone who has devoted her life to public service,” Smith said. “I suppose if you say it enough, maybe you can get people to believe it.”
Clinton’s firm represented Wal-Mart and TCBY while she sat on their boards, a cozy practice that corporate governance experts frown upon because of the potential for conflicts of interest.
Politicians naturally want to stick to their chosen narratives, but other aspects of Clinton’s relationship with the Rose Law Firm could remind voters of the more controversial side of the Clinton legacy.
There was her work on behalf of Madison Guaranty, a failed savings and loan at the heart of the Whitewater investigation — the billing records of which were mysteriously found in a White House storage room years after investigators first asked for them. And there’s Webster Hubbell, a Rose partner, Clinton pal and high-ranking Justice Department official who was convicted of fraud charges related to his work at the firm.