In a bizarre turn of events Tuesday, a former member of the notorious NXIVM sex cult, whose founder, Keith Raniere, is currently on trial, testified that one of the cult's benefactors raised thousands of dollars from cult members for Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign.
The New York Post reports that Mark Vicente, who used to be a high-ranking member of the cult, testified in court that another high-ranking NXIVM devotee, Seagram's rum heiress Clare Bronfman, demanded cult members donate the maximum individual amount — then $2,300 — to Clinton's 2008 primary campaign against then-Illinois senator, Barack Obama.
Vicente claims that Bronfman would then reimburse cult members for their donations, creating "straw donors" — a practice that is illegal under Federal Elections Commissions rules.
The group thought that the donations might help to “curry favor with the Clintons" and to deter any future federal investigations into the "self-help group" that operated largely in upstate New York.
NXIVM itself allegedly operated as a sort-of pyramid scheme, luring in potential members with "personal development programs" that eventually progressed into cult-like indoctrination. The federal government alleges that, not only did its leaders — Raniere and actress Allison Mack — fleece members out of thousands of dollars, but that they were also operating the group as a cover for a "secret society" that revolved around sexual intercourse and sexual slavery, and a sex trafficking operation.
Until a 2015 ABC News expose on the group, it operated largely under the radar and out of the public eye, and, like Scientology, used the courts to silence critics, former members, and journalists who investigated the group's practices.
Mack and Raniere are standing trial on federal charges of sex trafficking and racketeering. Bronfman, who is accused of trying to "curry favor" with the Clintons, took over the cult in 2018 and is facing federal racketeering charges. Other high-level members of the group have already taken plea bargains.
“Clare Bronfman approached other people and said she would like to make a campaign contribution but she couldn’t make it above a certain amount,” Vincente told the court during his testimony. Although he did not name the politician recipient, nor how much each member was asked to contribute, federal authorities believe the fundraising was for Clinton, and that each member was asked to max out at $2,300.
Vincente also noted that the donations had a secondary effect: they introduced NXIVM higher-ups to a whole new group of professionals possibly in need of their personal development services.
“There was a strong desire to meet people within politics,” Vincente said.
Althogether, it appears the group raised close to $30,000 for Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.
The leaders of NXIVM were, of course, only some of many shadier figures associated with Clinton's early efforts at winning the White House.
It seems, at the time, though, the Clintons did know that the $30,000 in donations were coming from what was likely a cult. When confronted about the money by New York Post reports, the Clinton campaign responded that, “Over 100,000 people from across the country have contributed to Sen. Clinton’s campaign for change, and regardless of who supports her, she will always continue to stand up for what she feels is right."
At least three members of the cult, including Bronfman, are also donors to the Clinton Global Initiative.