Harold McEwan Ickes was born on September 4, 1939 in Washington, D.C. He earned a BA in economics from Stanford University in 1964, and a JD from Columbia University Law School in 1967. He is a longtime Democrat operative widely recognized as the chief organizer (in the early 2000s) of the so-called Shadow Party, a nationwide network of more than five-dozen unions, non-profit activist groups, and think tanks whose agendas were ideologically to the left, and which were engaged in campaigning for the Democrats.
Ickes hails from a prominent political family. His father, Harold LeClair Ickes, served as U.S. Secretary of the Interior from 1933-46, under Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. After losing his first wife in an automobile accident in 1935, the elder Ickes, at age 64, married 25-year-old Jane Dahlman, who gave birth to Harold M. Ickes in 1939.
Harold M. Ickes attended the prestigious Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. After graduating from high school as a functional illiterate, he eschewed college, choosing instead to fulfill his boyhood dream of working as a cowboy on ranches, which he did from 1959-61.
In 1961 Ickes enrolled at Stanford University, where he fell under the influence of Professor Allard Kenneth Lowenstein, widely known as the “Pied Piper” for his ability to seduce idealistic young students into the New Left. After graduating from Stanford in 1964 with a degree in economics, Ickes, at Lowenstein’s urging, spent the summers of 1964 and 1965 registering black voters in Mississippi and Louisiana, respectively, for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). In 1965, white vigilantes in Louisiana beat Ickes so badly that he lost a kidney.
Undaunted, Ickes that same year traveled to the Dominican Republic, where — according to the Boston Globe — he sought to “help deposed leftist president Juan Bosch return to office.” After spending two years in Communist Cuba, the socialist Bosch had returned to the Dominican Republic and won the support of a group of left-wing colonels, who sought to place Bosch in power through an armed coup. Only the arrival of 22,000 U.S. Marines thwarted the coup attempt. Ickes was present on the island when the Marines landed, on April 29, 1965.
Ickes subsequently began touring Latin America, until his mentor, Lowenstein, summoned him back to New York in 1966 to work on the anti-Vietnam War movement. Lowenstein, who was then running for Congress, introduced Ickes to New York politics.
Ickes earned a JD from Columbia Law School in 1967 and quickly became a skilled operative for the Democratic Party, working on the 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, respectively. He also co-managed Basil Paterson’s 1970 Democratic primary campaign for Lt. Governor of New York.
Ickes met Bill Clinton while both were working on Operation Purse Strings, a grassroots lobbying effort that aimed, in 1970, to push through the McGovern-Hatfield Amendment to cut off all U.S. military aid to South Vietnam. (The Amendment was defeated, but subsequent measures promoted by Senator Ted Kennedy succeeded in slashing American aid to South Vietnam by 80 percent over the ensuing three years. By 1975, South Vietnam and Cambodia could no longer afford to defend themselves. Thus they fell to the Communists, who promptly slaughtered 2-3 million people in Indochina.)
In 1977 Ickes joined the Mineola, New York law firm of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, taking charge of its labor practice. Among the unions that Ickes represented for the firm were Local 100 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, which was controlled jointly by the Colombo and Gambino crime families; the New York City District Council of Carpenters, then controlled by the Genovese crime family; and Teamsters Local 851, which ran the air freight rackets at JFK airport for the Lucchese crime family.
Ickes has always denied complicity in any of the criminal activities of his Mob clients. Faced with an avalanche of bad press in 1993, he argued: “It is very important that law firms such as mine, which are known for their integrity, provide honest and competent legal representation to unions and their memberships. If we abandoned our clients in the face of allegations of corruption, it would leave union members at the mercy of only corrupt lawyers.”
In 1980, Ickes helped lead Senator Ted Kennedy‘s bid for the presidential nomination against then-incumbent Jimmy Carter. He subsequently worked on Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns, and was a senior advisor to David Dinkins’ successful 1989 mayoral campaign in New York City.
Ickes managed Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in New York in 1992, persuading state Democrats to stand by Clinton despite the controversy over the candidate’s longtime extramarital affair with the former model/actress Gennifer Flowers. He then managed the 1992 Democratic National Convention for Clinton.
Ickes left the Meyer Suozzi law firm in 1993 and joined the Clinton White House on January 4, 1994; he went on to serve for three years as Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Political Affairs and Policy.
Insiders have long noted Ickes’ special loyalty toward Hillary Clinton. In the 1990s, The Boston Globe called him “a special favorite of the president’s wife.” In the Clinton White House, Ickes quickly gravitated to Hillary’s end of the operation. He served initially as “health care czar,” charged with rescuing the First Lady’s floundering Health Security Act. Mrs. Clinton later placed Ickes in charge of a special unit within the White House Counsel’s office, dedicated to suppressing various Clinton scandals. It operated, in effect, as a Counsel’s office within the Counsel’s office. In his 1996 book, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, David Brock refers to Ickes’ special unit as the “Shadow Counsel’s Office.” Its operatives included Mark Fabiani, Chris Lehane, and Jane Sherburne. Ickes reported directly to Hillary Clinton on all matters related to the work of this special unit.
Because so many of his duties involved damage control during Clinton scandals, Ickes wryly dubbed his role as “Director of Sanitation.” “Whenever there was something that [Bill Clinton] thought required ruthlessness or vengeance or sharp elbows and sharp knees or, frankly, skulduggery, he would give it to Harold,” former Clinton adviser Dick Morris told Vanity Fair in September 1997. According to InfluenceWatch.com: “Ickes’s first major assignment in the White House was to run the damage control effort against the Whitewater probe, an investigation that eventually formed the basis for the successful prosecution of the Clintons’ Whitewater business partners, James and Susan McDougal, and Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker (D), for bank fraud. Ickes also served as ‘point man’ for helping to guide the administration’s failed “Hillarycare” government-run health care initiative.”
Ickes also headed the Clintons’ fundraising apparatus, collecting record-breaking quantities of soft money – much of it through such means as: (a) labor racketeering; (b) soliciting payoffs from U.S. businessmen who sought inside access to overseas trade missions; and (c) cutting deals with Chinese intelligence agents eager to loosen up U.S. export controls on military technology. (This is documented in Edward Timperlake and William C. Triplett II’s 1998 book, Year of the Rat: How Bill Clinton and Al Gore Compromised U.S. Security for Chinese Cash.)
By 1996, federal investigators had begun zeroing in on Ickes’ involvement in numerous Clinton scandals, including Filegate (the illegal commandeering of more than a thousand secret FBI background files on potential Clinton foes) and Chinagate (the selling of military secrets to Red China in exchange for campaign contributions). Thus Ickes was becoming a liability to the Clinton White House; shortly after Bill Clinton’s November 1996 reelection, the president fired him.
After leaving the White House in January 1997, Ickes rejoined his old law firm, Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein.
In January 1997 as well, Ickes partnered with lobbyist Janice Ann Enright to establish the lobbying firm Ickes & Enright Group, which portrayed itself as “a strong Democratic brand” dedicated to providing advocacy, policy analysis, and research consulting services to Democrats.
Soon thereafter, Ickes submitted, to Senate investigators, thousands of documents that, by CNN’s telling, showed the Clinton White House to be a place obsessed with raising funds by showering potential big donors with offers for every perk imaginable — e.g., seats for flights on Air Force One, seats at private dinners with the President, and potentially illegal influence on “appointments to boards and commissions.” “Right up to Election Day 1996,” added The New York Times, “Ickes continued to offer access to the President in order to raise money for the Clinton campaign.”
Ickes was also investigated for allegations that during the 1996 presidential campaign, he had secured a position at the Democratic National Committee for John Huang, a Chinese fundraiser who raised some $3.4 million for the party, mostly from the Asian American community. When it was determined that much of that money had been raised improperly — sometimes from questionable donors located overseas — the DNC returned nearly half of Huang’s contributions. In 1999, Huang pled guilty to a felony conspiracy charge for campaign-finance-law violations.
During Congressional hearings, then-U.S. Senator Fred Thompson alleged that Ickes had orchestrated a complex money-laundering scheme (involving the Teamsters Union and the DNC) that illegally financed the re-election campaign of Teamsters president Ron Carey. In this so-called “Teamstergate” scandal, several high-level Democrat leaders and union bosses who were directly implicated in the case, mysteriously escaped prosecution. Among those major players were Service Employees International Union (SEIU) head Andrew Stern; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) chief Gerald McEntee; Terry McAuliffe, who then headed the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign; and Harold Ickes himself.
In 1998, a Justice Department campaign-finance task force report to Attorney General Janet Reno identified Ickes as the “Svengali” of a criminal enterprise.
All told, congressional investigators probing the White House’s role in Clinton’s re-election effort subpoenaed Ickes 34 times. He testified under oath 32 times before six federal grand juries.
In 1999, Ickes was appointed as the chief campaign adviser for Hillary Clinton’s 2000 run for the U.S. Senate. According to Ickes, he accepted the job after a four-hour meeting with Mrs. Clinton on February 12, 1999 – the same day that the Senate voted on Bill Clinton’s impeachment. “I’m really doing this out of my friendship for Hillary, pure and simple,” Ickes told the Associated Press on June 17, 1999. “She called and there was no way I was going to say no to Hillary.”
Following Mrs. Clinton’s election to the Senate, Ickes played a central role in creating the “Shadow Party,” a network of non-profit activist groups organized by George Soros and others to advance Democratic Party agendas and guide the Democratic Party ever-further towards the left in the early 2000s. After passage of the McCain-Feingold Act of March 27, 2002, Ickes helped put Shadow Party architect George Soros together with activists Andrew Stern, Ellen R. Malcolm, Steven Rosenthal, Gina Glantz, Cecile Richards, and other left-wing Democrats who were seeking ways to circumvent McCain-Feingold’s soft-money ban. Working closely with Soros, Ickes personally helped launch six of the seven organizations that formed the Shadow Party’s core during the 2004 election. The six groups were: America Coming Together, America Votes, the Center for American Progress, Joint Victory Campaign 2004, the Media Fund, and the Thunder Road Group.
During the 2004 presidential race, Democrat strategist Howard Wolfson told New York magazine that – outside of the John Kerry campaign – Ickes was “the most important person in the Democratic Party today.”
In 2008, Ickes served as an advisor to the campaign manager of Hillary Clinton’s failed bid to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. He was also a superdelegate with the Democratic National Committee.
In 2013, Ickes was appointed to the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, a post he continues to hold.
In 2015, Ickes served on Priorities USA Action’s board of directors as the Super PAC shifted its focus mostly to supporting Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
In 2000, Ickes recommended New York City mayor Bill de Blasio for his job managing Hillary Clinton’s U.S. Senate campaign. In later years, he advised de Blasio’s mayoral campaigns and introduced him to wealthy donors. De Blasio, in turn, has identified Ickes as his closest mentor.
Shortly after de Blasio’s 2013 election as mayor, Ickes, who not been an active lobbyist in New York City since nearly ten years earlier, suddenly re-opened the New York branch of his lobbying firm and quickly collected almost $1 million in fees while securing multiple policy victories for his clients.
In 2016, Ickes bundled and delivered more than $12,000 in contributions to de Blasio’s mayoral re-election campaign. On the very same day that the campaign those funds, New York City’s Parks Department announced that A.E.G. Live — a concert promoter that paid Ickes $150,000 — had been granted permission to host a Randall’s Island music festival that two other companies had been denied.