Carroll County Times
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Issa challenger Sara Jacobs got an assist from a major fundraiser for job with Clinton campaign

Sara Jacobs

Two years ago Sara Jacobs, a Democrat who is now running for Congress, was turned down for a job working for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign — that is, until a political fundraiser intervened on her behalf.

The granddaughter of Qualcomm co-founder, billionaire philanthropist and major campaign donor Irwin Jacobs, Sara Jacobs wanted an unpaid position on Clinton’s policy team.


Months passed without receiving a promising word from Clinton’s people, let alone getting a job. Then Mary Pat Bonner, one of the most prolific Democratic fundraisers in the history of elections, began lobbying top officials in the Clinton campaign to get Jacobs a job.

“‎I know I will be seeing you soon. Can I grab a couple minutes to talk about Sara Jacobs?” Bonner wrote in an April 14, 2015, email to John Podesta, the chairman of Clinton’s campaign. Jacobs later began working for the campaign as a foreign policy adviser — a post for which Podesta says she was well qualified.


Bonner’s efforts on behalf of Jacobs are contained in a series of emails published by Wikileaks as a result of Russian hacking in last year’s election. The San Diego Union-Tribune found the emails in a routine check of Wikileaks for backgrounding of political candidates.

Jacobs, 28, earlier this month entered the race against Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista. Three other Democrats — Doug Applegate, Mike Levin and Paul Kerr — were already campaigning to represent a coastal district that runs from La Jolla to Dana Point.

It’s unclear how Bonner knew Jacobs, or was in a position to vouch for her abilities. Bonner did not return a request for comment.

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Federal Election Commission records show that Bonner raised money for political committees that received large contributions from Jacobs’ grandparents, Irwin and Joan Jacobs. They gave a combined $400,000 to American Bridge 21st Century, plus another $50,000 to Ready for Hillary while Bonner raised money for those groups.

In 2012 Irwin Jacobs also gave $2 million to Priorities USA Action, which includes Bonner’s associate David Brock on its board. Priorities USA initially supported President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, and later backed Clinton.

On April 15, one day after Bonner wrote to Podesta, Jacobs wrote to Clinton’s chairman herself.

“I just spoke to Mary Pat Bonner, who let me know that I should send you my resume, which is attached. As I believe she told you, I'm very interested in working in the policy office of the campaign. Thank you so much for helping me with this, I really appreciate it,” Jacobs wrote.

Jacobs’ campaign provided a statement from Podesta attacking Wikileaks as an instrument of Russia.


"Before coming to our campaign, Sara Jacobs had already done excellent policy work at the United Nations and at the State Department, and she is well qualified and would make an excellent member of Congress,” Podesta said in the statement.

In addition to three internships, Jacobs had approximately 28 months of professional experience at the time, including a position with United Nations, UNICEF, and as a contractor working in the State Department. While a contractor, she provided support for “policy shaping and strategy support,” her resume says.

Jacobs also earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and interned on Barack Obama’s re-election campaign finance team.

Bonner’s April 2015 email about Jacobs was not her last. In a June 16 email with “Sara Jacobs” as the subject line, Bonner asked Anne O’Leary, Clinton’s health and education adviser, if they could talk.

Two weeks later, Bonner wrote to O’Leary, “Hi there — just checking back in on this. Sara said she hasn't heard from anyone yet. She is happy to start out in an unpaid position if you all are not making staff hires yet. Please let me know if there is anything we can do on our end,” Bonner wrote.

O’Leary replied, “I did try hard to run this through the process, but there is a hard line that we are not accept (sic) unpaid positions and we don't have any paid positions available on the policy team. I will certainly let you know if something changes.”


After receiving the rejection from O’Leary, Bonner once again reached out to Podesta.

“I just wanted to follow-up again on Sara Jacobs. I have attached her resume here and I am also attaching an email from Ann O'Leary who was working on this as well, but as we discussed, I don't think this will get done without your help. Thanks so much for all you are doing to help on this,” Bonner said in a July 30 email.

Wikileaks does not include any additional correspondence between Bonner and members of Clinton’s campaign about Jacobs after July 30.

Jake Sullivan, a senior policy adviser, told the Union-Tribune that he was the one to hire Jacobs. He said he had discretion about who he brought onto the team and was not pressured to hire Jacobs.

“The only way in which finances are even remotely involved with this, for me, Podesta mentioned to me,” Sullivan said by telephone. “He said that Sara was interested and asked me about it, but he didn’t tell me to do anything.”

Sullivan added, “I think he said, at some point, he just mentioned, as he did with many other people, that people had been in touch with him about her. But I actually went back to look at my records to look to see if he reached back (to discuss Jacobs), and I didn’t find anything. But I don’t remember. He didn’t make a special request for me to interview her that I recall.”


Jacobs was qualified and received several strong endorsements from her professional colleagues, Sullivan said.

Jacobs began working for the campaign in November 2015 as a foreign policy adviser. FEC records do not show that she was on the campaign’s payroll.

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The Jacobs campaign got the Union-Tribune in touch with Cindy Huang, Jacobs’ supervisor at the State Department, who said she provided the Clinton campaign a strong reference based on Jacobs’ work developing internal policies for assessing conflicts abroad.

“Sometimes you meet a lot of people who are entitled,” Huang said by telephone. “And I just want to say after interviewing Sara and in providing a reference for her in the campaign position, I was really impressed with the fact that she did not have that attitude. She was willing to do the hard work and stay up late and focus on the substance.”

O’Leary said she was impressed with Jacobs once she was brought on board, particularly work developing policies to prevent the spread of the Zika virus to Puerto Rico.

“I didn’t know Sara Jacobs at at all, or her family connections. I just knew she was a qualified person who was assigned to work for me,” O’Leary said.


In California, there is no traditional party primary election for Congress. Instead, the top two vote-getters in the June election advance to the general election in November. Still, Podesta’s statement portrayed the Issa race as a primary and seemed to suggest other Democrats unearthed the emails.

“In the era of Trump, very little surprises me but the fact that emails stolen by the Russians to help Donald Trump get elected have surfaced in a Democratic primary is shocking,” Podesta said. “We’re better than that."

If other Democrats in the race unearthed the emails, they did not share them with the Union-Tribune, which did its own research for this story.

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(John Kelley, Lauren Flynn/San Diego Union-Tribune)