Kirsten Gillibrand seems to be using Hillary Clinton's failings as a 'cautionary tale' in her latest move to position herself for 2020

  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced this week that she'll no longer accept campaign donations from corporate political action committees.
  • The decision aligns Gillibrand with two potential 2020 opponents, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and with the party's base, which is firmly opposed to corporate influence in politics. 
  • Democratic strategists say the move is smart, and yet another indication of her presidential ambitions.


In the latest sign of her 2020 ambitions, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced this week that she'll no longer accept campaign donations from corporate political action committees, aligning herself with the progressive base and moving away from Hillary Clinton's example. 

Gillibrand became the fourth sitting Democratic senator to ban corporate PAC cash, putting her in the same camp as Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both of whom Gillibrand may square off against in the 2020 presidential primary. The move indicates the party's solidifying rejection of corporate influence in politics, the rejection of which may become the next litmus test for Democrats who want to rise in the party. 

"I believe the flood of special interest and secret money into campaigns is corrosive and leading to corruption both hard and soft in Congress," Gillibrand, who's running for Senate reelection in 2018, said Tuesday. "We won't be able to bring down Medicare drug prices, stop companies from outsourcing our jobs or start to rebuild the middle class until we can stem the unlimited influence special interest money applies over politicians."

Hours later, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, another potential 2020 candidate, announced he'll also ban corporate PAC donations.

RELATED: Kirsten Gillibrand through the years

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Kirsten Gillibrand through the years
ALBANY, NEW YORK - JANUARY 23: U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) looks on during a news conference announcing her as New York Gov. David A. Paterson's choice to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat for New York on January 23, 2009 in Albany, New York. Caroline Kennedy withdrew her name from consideration a day before the announcement of the Governor's decision for filling the seat which was left vacant by the new Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 23: New York Governor David Paterson announces New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to replaces Senator Hillary Clinton. at the State Capitol. (Photo by Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 25: Senator-designate Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) greets media after a lunch meeting with New York Gov. David A. Paterson, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on January 25, 2009 in New York City. Gov. Paterson appointed Gillibrand to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Clinton on January 23 in Albany, New York. Gillibrand is expected to be sworn in this week to serve in the U.S. Senate. (Photo by Hiroko Masuike/Getty Images)
US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand takes her seat during testimony by former US Vice President Al Gore during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on 'Addressing Global Climate Change: The Road to Copenhagen' on January 28, 2009 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/ TIM SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MAY 18: First lady Michelle Obama and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg are joined by Met Museum President Emily Rafferty, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, and Rep. Charles Rangel at the ribbon cutting ceremony to officially re-open the Charles Engelhard Court, centerpiece of the newly renovated American Wing, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 18, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JUNE 14: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) attends the 2009 Puerto Rican Day Parade on the streets of Manhattan on June 14, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Ray Tamarra/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 13: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, makes an opening statement at the confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, July 13, 2009. Democratic and Republican senators debated Sotomayor's fitness to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court as she prepared to make her own case for confirmation to the Senate committee today. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 06: New York State Senator Kirsten Gillibrand attends the 9th annual Greater New York Human Rights Campaign Gala at The Waldorf Astoria on February 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MAY 3: U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (R) prepares to participate in a press conference in front of the United Nations addressing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to the city May 3, 2010 in New York City. Ahmadinejad visited the UN to attend a conference on nuclear non-proliferation. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 02: U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaks to supporters on election night at the Sheraton New York November 2, 2010 in New York City. Gillibrand defeated Republican challenger Joseph DioGuardi. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Moderator David Gregory appear on 'Meet the Press' Sunday, Jan 16, 2011 at the NBC studios in Washington, D.C.. (Photo by Stephen J. Boitano/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MARCH 16: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) reads papers in the hallway before a news conference on gay marriage on Capitol Hill on March 16, 2011 in Washington, DC. Gillibrand and sixteen other Democrats introduced a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MARCH 16: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) listens during a news conference on gay marriage on Capitol Hill on March 16, 2011 in Washington, DC. Gillibrand and sixteen other Democrats introduced a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
HEMPSTEAD, NY - DECEMBER 02: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand attends Lifetime Television's 2012 'Every Woman Counts' campaign at Hofstra University on December 2, 2011 in Hempstead, New York. (Photo by Joe Corrigan/Getty Images for A&E)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 02: U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (L) speaks as Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) (R) listens during a news conference on the STOCK Act February 2, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the amendments and the passage of the bill this afternoon. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) attends a press conference organized by the group Iran180 to denounce Iranian President Ahmadinejad?s upcoming speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2012 in New York City. A group of elected officials and community leaders spoke outside United Nations headquarters and called for U.N. action against the Iranian regime. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
WOODBURY, NY - OCTOBER 18: U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (L) and former Vice President Dick Cheney pose for photographs following Cheney's appearance at the Long Island Association fall luncheon at the Crest Hollow Country Club on October 18, 2012 in Woodbury, New York. Cheney discussed foreign and domestic issues, including the upcoming presidential election, at the business organization's luncheon. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 16: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., conducts a news conference in the Capitol on legislation that would create a new process for reviewing cases of military sexual assault and alleviate victims' fear of reporting an incident. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., also appear. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
9/19/13- Capitol Hill- Washington DC Caroline Kennedy goes before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee for questioning as they determine if she will be the next U.S. Ambassador to Japan.Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York backed Caroline. photo: Christy Bowe - ImageCatcher News (Photo by ImageCatcher News Service/Corbis via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 29: United States Senator from New York Kirsten Gillibrand speaks at the TIME 100 Gala, TIME's 100 most influential people in the world at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 29, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TIME)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 16: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in her office on Capitol Hill in Washington DC Wednesday July 16, 2014. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 09: US Senator of New York Kirsten Gillibrand speaks onstage during 'Disrupting Politics' at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on October 9, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, listens to a speaker during a press conference to announce a new medical marijuana bill at the US Capitol on March 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
(R-L) US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and US Senator Schumer attend the 14th Anniversary ceremony of the terrorist attacks at the 9/11 memorial on September 11, 2015 in New York. AFP PHOTO/KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 25: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) walks on stage to deliver remarks on the first day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 493 -- Pictured: (l-r) Senator Kirsten Gillibrand during an interview with host Seth Meyers on February 21, 2017 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE VIEW - Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) is the guest, Monday, May 8, 2017 on ABC's 'The View.' 'The View' airs Monday-Friday (11:00 am-12:00 pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images) SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 25: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaks during a news conference with fellow Democrats, 'Dreamers' and university presidents and chancellors to call for passage of the Dream Act at the U.S. Capitol October 25, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump said he will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and has asked Congress to find a solution for the status of the beneficiaries of the program, called 'Dreamers.' (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, speaks during the Women's Convention in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. The Women's Convention will bring together first time activists and movement leaders, rising political stars that reflect our nation's changing demographics, and thousands of women for a weekend of workshops, strategy sessions, and inspiring forums. Photographer: Anthony Lanzilote/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, listens during a news conference unveiling bipartisan legislation to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. Seven female U.S. senators called on fellow Democrat�Al Franken�to resign Wednesday following allegations, and his admission in at least one case, that he groped or sexually harassed women. His office said he will make an announcement on Thursday. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, speaks during a news conference unveiling bipartisan legislation to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. Seven female U.S. senators called on fellow Democrat�Al Franken�to resign Wednesday following allegations, and his admission in at least one case, that he groped or sexually harassed women. His office said he will make an announcement on Thursday. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Democratic strategists agree the decision is smart, and almost obvious — it will win Gillibrand points with the party's base, burnish her economic populist credentials, and distance her from Clinton, whose close ties to Wall Street and other corporate interests hurt her during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. 

It could also protect her from attacks like the one President Donald Trump launched against her last December, when he called the senator "lightweight" who "would do anything" for campaign contributions.

A 'cautionary tale' from Hillary Clinton

Jon Reinish, a Democratic strategist and former aide to the senator, said Gillibrand was wise to view Clinton's "tone-deaf misread of where the base was when it came to money in politics" as a "cautionary tale," citing the backlash to Clinton's lucrative speeches for top banks. 

"Imagine where Hillary could have been minus those paid Goldman Sachs speeches?" Reinish told Business Insider. "Always good to get ahead of a liability and it has the benefit of being the right thing to do."

 

 

 

Stu Loeser agreed that Gillibrand has taken a lesson from 2016 — both that money doesn't necessarily dictate political success and that the Democratic base is firmly opposed to corporate money in politics. 

 

"Hillary showed that the campaign with the most money doesn't always win anymore, and she showed that anything that gives your base vote misgivings can hurt your turnout in November," he said. "Hillary lost in the end because of Comey and the former commies, but filling her pockets — not her campaign, her personal bank account — at a quarter-of-a-million-dollars a pop for a warmed-over rehash of a speech was a big reason it ever got that close."

 

And the PAC-money prohibition likely won't hurt Gillibrand's bottom line very much. About 15% of the total funds she's raised throughout her time in the House and Senate have come from PACs, 65% of which came from business PACs, Roll Call reported Tuesday. An aide said the senator will continue to accept money from labor PACs. 

 

Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist and former top adviser to Bloomberg, argued the senator's decision was also influenced by the declining efficacy of money in politics, which he attributes in part to the increasingly irrelevancy of TV ads. 

 

While the senator and her aides won't confirm or deny plans for a 2020 run, all signs, including her prodigious fundraising from small donors, point to Gillibrand's higher ambitions. 

 

An outspoken voice for the "resistance," Gillibrand has the most anti-Trump voting record in the Senate, and a recent analysis published in The Washington Post found that she is also voting to the left of her constituents.

 

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