Bill and Hillary Clinton have cultivated friendships with many deep-pocketed donors over their decades in politics. But a Friday report in Politico confirms what we already knew — no one quite matches Haim Saban, the Israel-American owner of Univision.
Saban, with an estimated fortune of $3.6 billion, has lavished his largesse on the power couple. In this cycle, he has given $11.5 million to pro-Hillary Clinton Super PACs, in addition to previous contributions of similar amounts to fund Bill Clinton’s presidential library and the Clinton family’s charitable foundation.
But in the trove of hacked emails from campaign adviser John Podesta, released over several weeks by Wikileaks, it’s striking the level of access Saban is afforded and how much the candidate and her aides seem to value his advice.
Unlike many donors, who have to go through numerous intermediaries to get campaign higher-ups or the candidate on the phone, Saban has a line right to the top. In one email to Podesta and campaign manager Robby Mook, he requested a talk with one of them in summary fashion, writing, “Can one of you please call me at your earliest convenience? Tx.”
After Clinton scored a win in the Nevada caucuses in February, he congratulated her and the team in effusive terms. “Amigos I’m in Israel and just woke up to the news … Haleluya! Onward and forward,” he gushed.
The campaign also seems to have valued Saban’s advice on outreach to Latinos — an area that he might have expertise in due to his role at Univision, a Spanish-language television channel.
His counsel showed up in the emails. At one point, Podesta wrote to communications director Jennifer Palmieri and her deputy Kristina Schake, “Haim thinks we are under reacting to Trump/Hispanics. Thinks we can get something by standing up for Latinos or attacking R’s for not condemning.”
Palmieri embraced Saban’s idea, responding, “Haim is right — we should be jamming this all the time,” wrote Palmieri, then adding campaign political director Amanda Renteria and communications assistant Xochitl Hinojosa. “A and X — can we think about what else we should do?” she added
Saban, whose family immigrated to Israel from Egypt, also figures as a big influence on matters related to Israel, having established the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy and given to a host of causes linked to the Jewish state.
When Clinton repudiated the BDS movement to impose boycotts, divestment, and sanctions on Israel over the summer, she did so by writing a public letter to the billionaire.
Some have worried that Saban has undue influence, both over the Univision network and Clinton’s Israel positions. Leftwing sites like Mondoweiss and Alternet have run pieces that imply Saban’s friendship and financial support mean Clinton will never be even-handed with the Palestinians in peace negotiations.
In the emails, Saban rebutted allegations that he controlled the news at Univision, writing, “I have nothing to do with it.i NEVER tell our news dep. What to cover. … unlike some of my peers.”
Daniel J. Solomon is the Assistant to the Editor/News Writer at the Forward. Originally from Queens, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he wrote his senior thesis on French-Jewish intellectual history. He is excited to have returned to New York after his time in Massachusetts. Daniel’s passions include folk music, cycling, and pointed argument.