In 1978-as her husband was on the verge of election as governor of Arkansas-Hillary was dabbling in cattle futures.
At the time, the combined income of the Clintons was around $60,000; so Hillary couldnt risk a lota mere $1,000 to dip her toe into an uncertain stream. However, it turned out she was enormously luckyso lucky, in fact, that a lot of cynics in Arkansas and elsewhere came to believe that luck played little or no role in her success, that she and her financial advisor had engaged in a scam. Her friends defended her with a very weak, "beginners luck."
The popular media have said comparatively little about Hillary's venture in cattle futuresperhaps because commodities trading is complicated, perhaps because Hillary Clinton is untouchable in their eyes. However, some business publications have examined these transactions in depth and found them highly suspect. Here are the bare facts.
In 1978-when her husband was still attorney general of Arkansas-Hillary Rodham Clinton opened a futures account with Refco, a Chicago-based firm, whose local broker was Robert L. "Red" Bone." She turned the management of this account over to James Blair, counsel for Tysons Foods Inc., one of the biggest chicken processors in the country and a major Arkansas employer.
Blairs connection with Tyson is by no means irrelevant to a consideration of Hillarys futures account. Over the years, Don Tyson had been a major supporter of Bill Clintons many political campaigns according to some, the most generous contributor of all.
Tyson, known in Arkansas as "Big Daddy," probably killed, gutted, packaged, and shipped more chickens in a day than most chicken farmers and processors saw in a lifetime. An eccentric good ol boy with a mean streak, he was arguably the biggest chicken merchant in the country, and behaved like it.
A governor could do a lot of favors for an old chicken plucker. And Big Daddy needed all the breaks he could get from friends in high places. For example, in a state-regulated food industry, it made a difference who was inspecting for health hazards and environmental infractions. The right inspector, somebody who understood the troubles chickens could pose and who could use a little extra money "off the books"might well make the difference in whether or not people nationwide bought Tysons chicken tenders or Perdues. So, if you were a chicken man, it was nice to be tight with the governor.
Jim Blair performed a satisfying service for Big Daddy and the governor: He arranged deals that made both men very happy. And its hard to believe that Hillarys futures account wasnt a part of those mutually beneficial arrangements.
As noted above, her initial investment was small. However, over the next year, Blair wrought miracles that Harry Potter has yet to learn. The account grew like wildfire and stood at almost $100,000 when she collected her winnings. Some of her biggest scores came from selling short, a particularly risky venture because of potential margin calls.
Blair and Bone had an understanding about margin calls, Refco didnt issue them, regardless of the circumstances. "Buying on the margin" means putting up a "down payment" on a contract. You put down 10 percent, say, selling cattle futures short based on the current price. This means youre betting the price will fall. If the price increases, your liability increases and the new 10 percent is higher than the old one. At that point, a brokerage house will usually issue a margin call, asking you to put in more money to cover what looms as a substantial loss.
When it came to margin calls, Bone was defiant, so much so that in 1977 the Chicago Board of Trade had disciplined him and ordered the Refco home office in Chicago to limit his activities, an order Bone didnt follow. He was also reprimanded by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which cited "repeated and serious violations of record-keeping functions, order-entry procedures, margin requirements and hedge procedures"
The question of margin calls is relevant here, because had Bone and Blair played by the rules, according to James Glassman of the New Republic, in July of 1979 (a publication which, by the way, would not be included in any "vast right-wing conspiracy"), Hillary should have received a margin call to put up $117,500. No such call was issued, though it undoubtedly would have come from any other commodities office.
Hillary entered the market on October 11, 1978. On her first ten cattle contracts, she sold short, the most dangerous kind of trading, since youre betting that prices will drop and risking enormous losses if they rise. With Blair handling the account, she bought and sold, either the same day or the next day, and walked off with a profit of $5,300. By October 23, she had made an additional profit of almost $8,000.
Hillary, who had spent most of her life denouncing the greedy predators of Wall Street, enjoyed the exhilaration of making money the easy way. Her account experienced a few downs, but mostly Blair reported lots and lots of ups. In fact, she admitted that while she was in labor with Chelsea, she was worrying about her sugar futures.
Marshall Magazine, a publication of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, printed a remarkably frank and revealing analysis of these transactions:
These results are quite remarkable. Two-thirds of her trades showed a profit by the end of the day she made them and 80 percent were ultimately profitable. Many of her trades took place at or near the best prices of the day.
Only four explanations can account for these remarkable results. Blair may have been an exceptionally good trader. Hillary Clinton may have been exceptionally lucky. Blair may have been front-running other orders. Or Blair may have arranged to have a broker fraudulently assign trades to benefit [Hillary] Clintons account. Many people familiar with these markets think that the first two explanations are exceedingly unlikely. Well-informed traders rarely trade with such remarkable success and consistency.
In other words, the odds of a trader honestly achieving these results are simply too high for hard-nosed traders to believe. The Journal of Economics and Statistics placed those odds at 250 million to one.58 And the fact that staid academic and professional journals would state the proposition in such blunt language is an indication of just how widespread and respectable these suspicions are. The only question remaining would then be: Which of these two illegal methods did Blair or the broker use in behalf of Hillary Clinton?
Marshall Magazine even provides a possible answer to that question:
Although no evidence of fraudulent trade assignment has ever surfaced, this method seems most likely to many people. Here is a simple explanation of how a dishonest broker could achieve this objective: Execute buy and sell orders in the same contract. The contract price will eventually go up or go down. If it goes up, assign the profitable buy trades to the favored account and assign the losing sell trades to an account owned by the benefactor. If the price falls, assign the profitable sell trades to the favored account and assign the losing buy trades to the benefactors account.
Marshall Magazine goes so far as to print some speculation on the identity of the benefactor:
Many of Clintons political enemies believe that the scheme was designed to surreptitiously transfer an illegal bribe or gratuity to Clinton in exchange for a political favor or for political influence. They believe that Don Tyson, a major supporter of Clintonwas the benefactor.
This series of transactions illustrates several important points about Hillary Clinton and her role in Bill Clintons rise to power.
First, she clearly believed in the adage that you could sup with the Devil if you used a long-handled spoon. Big Daddy Tyson was everything shed been taught to despise at Wellesley and Yale, a greedy capitalist who hated labor unions and had no compunction about polluting Mother Earth for financial gain. Yet she allowed Blair, Big Daddys right-hand man, to manage her financial affairs. Second, assuming the speculation in Marshalls Magazine is correct, she was the conduit for a bribe. If so and many signs point in that direction then its virtually impossible to believe that she entered into this scheme in all innocence.
Third, legal or illegal, this was not a campaign contribution, justifiable in terms of ultimate and noble political ends. This was cash flowing into the Clintons personal bank account. After all, the Clintons had acquired rich, influential friends; and they needed the funds to travel comfortably in such circles. Ultimately, the cultivation of the moneyed crowd would prove politically advantageous; but they had to dress in the right clothes and entertain in the right way.
And fourth, the money came to Hillary rather than to the governor a way to sidestep some of the ethical issues that might have been raised had Bill opened a futures account and beat such incredible odds. In chivalric Arkansas, even a politicians wife is cut some slack. Only in 1994, after Bill was president of the United States, would anyone seriously scrutinize her commodities trading account.(Source: The American Conservative Union, "Cattlegate")