Robert Novak

Penn's business conglomerate remains entwined in Clinton's campaign. Three weeks ago, the campaign hired as chief operating officer Howard Paster, who heads the London-based global advertising giant WPP. Penn is CEO of the public relations and lobbying company Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, which is owned by WPP. Penn and Paster won the admiration and devotion of the Clintons by running Bill Clinton's 1996 presidential campaign.

Beyond loyalty, Penn is welded to the 2008 Clinton campaign by financial ties. A source who has had close connections with Penn got word to me that he believes the Clinton campaign is $10 million in debt to Penn, Schoen & Berland, which is owned by Burson-Marsteller. The campaign's March report to the Federal Election Commission recorded indebtedness to the company of nearly $2.5 million (with its expenses for the month listed at $3.1 million).

My sources suggest that Clinton's full indebtedness may be revealed only gradually. This money link helps explain why Penn is still around after organized labor demanded his scalp last summer and he is blamed inside the campaign for failing to perceive the public's demand for "change."

Just how much money Clinton owes Penn can cause major difficulties in the future. If not repaid promptly, would it constitute an illegal financial contribution? Because the British WPP owns Burson-Marsteller, would that debt constitute an illegal foreign contribution?

Over the last week, I talked to 10 superdelegates (including two U.S. senators) who are committed to Clinton. Each claimed he would stick with her, but none could see how she could be nominated. In such a frame of mind, they would prefer a Geoff Garin-style soft landing to conclude the campaign. With Mark Penn still around, they could get a far more dramatic endgame.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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