The Greatest Gift of All

Today’s developing story—well, by now pretty well-developed—is the revelation that Hillary Clinton loaned $5 million of her own money to her campaign.

Time ’s Mark Halperin first brought up the loan at a conference call this morning. Howard Wolfson said he didn’t know and would check on that, then released a statement saying the loan “illustrates Sen. Clinton’s commitment to this effort and to ensuring that our campaign has the resources it needs to compete and win across this nation.”  

At a press conference here in Arlington, Va., Hillary smilingly confirmed the amount of the loan. “I think the results last night prove the wisdom of my investment,” she said. But she wouldn’t say much more. Where did she get the money? “It was my money.” Would she loan herself any more? She referred reporters to her official statement.

The loan suggests the Clinton campaign might have been spooked by Obama’s $32 million January haul. She wouldn’t say how much her campaign had raised last month—”You can wait to see the report”—but campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe told Tim Russert on Monday that the total was “about $13 million.” Whether that includes Clinton’s own $5 million or not, who knows.  

Donating money to yourself looks bad not just for financial reasons. It also flies in the face of Democratic ideals about campaign finance. Ben Smith points to something Bill Clinton said back in Iowa, that if he loaned money to his wife’s campaign that would “violate the spirit of campaign finance reform.” If any Democrat ended up facing Mitt Romney in the general election, that candidate would no doubt invoke his massive self-gifting as a vice. But now, if Hillary ends up facing a publicly financed John McCain in the general, he would be the one holding that weapon. She seems determined to play it as a necessary move to match Obama’s fund-raising machine. But she might have a tough time making Democrats—not to mention her own donors—see it that way.