GMOs, the Pope and Roy Spence: WikiLeaks Reveals Clinton Messaging Secrets

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The Great Enabler?
The Great Enabler? Credit: Heidi Gutman/NBC

"I like the way you move," reads the subject line of an Aug. 11, 2015 email addressed to John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman. Hold on, what's this?!

Sorry, it's actually nothing -- just a bit of clickbait from The Skimm, a heavily hyped daily news digest email newsletter that Podesta apparently subscribed to (maybe in an effort to understand millennials, to which The Skimm is targeted).

From a preliminary review of the fresh batch of hacked emails released on Monday by WikiLeaks -- what the site has packaged together as "The Podesta Emails" -- there's not as much there there as you'd expect given that there are thousands of individual messages in this latest dump. Podesta had plenty of inbox-clogging incoming in the form of newsletters and news-coverage summaries prepared by Clinton campaign staffers.

So there's a ton of noise, and not so much signal -- although speaking of signal, see The Wall Street Journal's story titled "WikiLeaks Reveals UFO Messages in Clinton Campaign Emails" (spoiler: former Blink 182 lead singer Tom DeLonge twice emailed Podesta in 2015 about their apparent shared interest in increasing government disclosure of whatever info the feds have about unidentified flying objects).

Ad Age went hunting for email messages related to the Clinton campaign's marketing, branding and overall messaging. Below, a sampler of what we've found so far.

One note: Though you've probably been seeing lots of one- and two-sentence quotes from The Podesta Emails, we're offering full, unedited emails in the interest of establishing context.

Hillary Clinton, the Great Enabler of the New Dreamers

In a June 24, 2014 email to assorted Clinton staffers and advisers, adman Roy Spence offered his take on how Clinton should be packaged. Spence was writing in response to a Washington Post piece by Fareed Zakaria titled "Hillary Clinton's Truly Hard Choice: Change Or Continuity?" that one Clinton adviser had previously shared with everyone on the thread. Spence's typo-ridden, stream-of-consciousness thoughts were "Sent from my iPhone":

Hi dear ones..sorry for length .My clear choice. Neither change nor continuity.but The different way. The new way. HRC declares the old way of building partisanships flying the special interest flags. Is the root cause of America becoming the Status Quo. Nation where we as a nation are weak and a victim of change. No when we are our best. We are a nation of doers and dreamers. Builders and architects of the future we do not predict or fall victim of the future. We create the future.

She champions with clear vision and grit. We will build not the partisans ships. But rather the Ship of State flying the American Dream flag

HRC champions 3 to 5 max. Game changing ideals Declaring not on my watch will the miracle of America be held hostage. To the politics of political cronyism on both sides.

HRC has a once in a lifetime to declare. I am in it to unleash the entrepreneurial energy of the America spirit.

Where no one is to good and everyone is good enough where our government. Is inspired by the core ideal. That our people have better ideas than our politicians

Net. I am running to insure that what was. Is not the road map of what can be. Has a leader that knows it is not about us anymore. But about them the new and Next generation. And that America. Will be the noble and courageous nation for the core ideals that when we are our best. We create the future. And we are called. To champion freedom and a way of life. Where we shall not rest till everyone everywhere has the god given right to live up to his or her full potential.

Net net HRC becomes the Means to a noble new beginning . Not the the hero but the great enabler of the new dreamers of next Sorry for the the long thought love and hugs to all

Hillary Clinton, Relatable Person

In a June 29, 2014 email, top Clinton aide Human Abedin wrote back to Spence. Though Spence was responding to the share of the Fareek Zakaria column linked above, he didn't address Zakaria's focus at the start of his piece on Clinton's wealth. ("Hillary Clinton's problem is not her money," Zakaria wrote. "Despite the media flurry over a couple of awkward remarks she made, most people will understand her situation pretty quickly -- she wasn't born rich but has become very rich -- and are unlikely to hold it against her.") But Abedin did:

Thanks Roy. As Always, appreciate your thoughts.

She got herself into the money conversation unfortunately with Diane Sawyer (dead broke) and then again with the Gaurdian (not truly well off) but she fixed it as best as she could with PBS/Gwen Ifill (not about me but about people who have real struggles).

Abedin then linked to an NBC News story titled "Most Believe Hillary Clinton Can Relate to Average Americans, Poll Finds."

Pope Hillary, Champion of the Poor

In a Sept. 26, 2015 email to John Podesta and Roy Spence, marketing/PR guy Brent Budowsky suggests that Hillary Clinton align herself with Pope Francis by giving a major speech:

Let me propose that Hillary give a major address with a title such as "How Pope Francis Inspires Me" and a subtitle such as "A Bill of Rights for the poor." Such as speech would combine direct references to specific teachings of Pope Francis, lessons she has learned from her own Methodist faith, and common teachings about helping the poor from the great religions of the world.

Such a speech could emphasize the hope for ultimately setting aside our political divisions, which the pope explicitly called for in his speech to the joint session of Congress. In my vision of this speech, she would specify her own plan listing details on major issues for a Bill of Rights for the poor, one by one, offering specific major proposals within a broader narrative beginning with Pope Francis and extending to the other great religions

And she would pledge, if elected, that one of her first actions in office would be to seek a bipartisan meeting with Congressional leaders from both parties, to develop a bipartisan bill of rights for the poor that would welcome Republican and conservative ideas, in the tradition of Jack Kemp, along with Democratic and progressive ideas.

Such a speech could be in the nature of a formal address, or remarks in the form of a sermon or homily at a church or major religious convention. The venue could be the JFK presidential library, Notre Dame University, St. Patrick's Cathedral, or the National Press Club. And again, since the pope explicitly called for political leaders to set aside their differences in pursuit of higher common goals, while the "Bill of Rights for the poor" would have directly progressive overtones, the willingness to meet with Republicans and conservatives would offer an honorable answer to the pope's call with a legitimately nonpartisan tone.

If there is serious interest, I would be more than happy to volunteer to draft either a detailed narrative memo listing content ideas or a first version of speech language, though I emphasize I would not want money, a job, or any form of public recognition if this works---which I am highly confident it will. I am just so inspired by the pope and so disgusted by our politics today that trying to offer any alternative---including this note--qualifies as a labor of love.

Hillary Clinton, GMO Labeling Advocate -- or Not?

In a Dec. 22, 2105 email to Podesta from Gary Hirshberg, a cofounder of Stonyfield Farm, the organic yogurt producer, Hirshberg wants clarity on Hillary Clinton's position on the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, aka the "Dark Act" -- and he pointedly notes that he's "raised nearly $400K for her because I believed what she told me. If that is not the case, I'd like the chance to speak to her." Hirshberg was apparently responding to an email from Podesta, not included in the WikiLeaks dump, with the subject line "Happy Holidays."

Thanks and the same to you, John. We are planning to host a Primary-eve party in Concord for all of our out-of-town Hillary friends and supporters so I hope I will see you there. We also have 4 empty bedrooms in the week leading up to, and during the primary so let me know if you need a "base camp".

And separately, did you see my email to you from a couple days ago? If not, I have appended it below. With the defeat of the Dark Act in 2015, this next year is going to be THE crucible year for getting this resolved, so Hillary's support is very important and I honestly cannot imagine she wants to take a position that is the opposite of what 90% of America's mothers support. Please, lets discuss this asap.

Hi john, I hope the anecdote below from one of the nation's most successful and awarded advertising execs is not accurate, but if so, it is very disappointing. We just won a staggering victory in keeping the "Dark Act" out of the Omnibus and Tom Vilsack, Debbie Stabenow and I are organizing a meeting with large food companies in January to try to hammer out a final mandatory labeling solution. Hillary's publicly opposing this is both the wrong policy position but also a direct breach of what she told me, namely that she supports average citizens and moms having the right to know. I have raised nearly $400K for her because I believed what she told me. If that is not the case, I'd like the chance to speak to her. Thanks, Gary

The anecdote Hirshberg refers to is not included in the email dump. But Podesta wrote back the same day:

I hadn't seen your earlier email. I'll ck on this. Don't think it's accurate, but let me ck.

And then a little later Podesta emailed again:

This is what we found that she said most recently. Not exactly what you want her to say, but actually pretty good and not what your friend suggested. This was at a Maryland fundraiser. Is that where he was?

QUESTION: Do you think people have a right to know what's in their food and that GMO, genetically modified organisms, should be labeled?

HILLARY CLINTON: I believe in two things. I believe in what the Department of Agriculture is doing is to start with a voluntary labeling program because that's all they can get through right now. That's all they can get through, but they need to start it. And we need to tell food manufacturers, through consumer and buyer pressure, to put more information on labels. And people can do that. But the other thing, the thing I am worried about most right now is one of these riders we were talking about, is to preempt states from imposing more rules on what information people should be able to have. So our first order is to stop that rider until we can actually try to let states do more and give states the chance to lead the way. That's what I support. Thank you all.

Hirshberg wrote back the same day:

John, I finally got word on where the aforementioned comments were made. It was at a fundraiser in Denver. That is not what she should be saying anywhere, but Denver is an especially bad spot for that message due to the number of well-heeled labeling supporters there. It is clear that she does not have a consistent message so I hope you can get through to her on this with my suggestion from earlier today. Again, I am happy to brief her or anyone on the behind-the-scenes politics here.

Hirshberg is chairman of the advocacy organization Just Label It, which pushes for mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods (GMOs).

Stay tuned for more from The Podesta Emails on

Correction: A previous version of this post rendered Gary Hirshberg's last name incorrectly. It's been corrected above.

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