Clinton Foundation Not Really a Charity

It's complicated. And probably not a scandal.

bill-clinton-hillary-clinton-fall

Dave Schuler points me to a Jonathan Tobin piece titled, “Is the Clinton Foundation Really a Charity?” It won’t shock you to note that Tobin argues in the negative. The key ‘graphs:

Sean Davis highlighted the discrepancy between the 88 percent figure and the reality of the Clinton Foundation spending ten percent on charity in a recent Federalist article. He followed up with another, skewering a claim by the left-wing Punditfact site that this claim was “mostly false.” As he wrote, the only way to come to such a conclusion was to simply ignore facts, including, most importantly, the filings of the Clinton Foundation that made it clear that it spent very little of its money on good deeds. But Punditfact says we should ignore these basic facts because of “the unusual business model” of the foundation which causes it to spend the lion’s share of the vast sums raised on its behalf on conferences, travel, and staffing.

The two largest items on its list of charitable expenditures are support for the Clinton Presidential Library and paying for the Clinton Global Initiative.

The Library is, like those edifices built to house the papers and glorify the memory of other presidents, a not-altogether-worthless endeavor. But it is a monument to the vanity and the legacy of the Clintons, not the sort of “good work” helping the impoverished of the Third World, as well as the women and the girls, Hillary Clinton is always telling us she’s out to save. It may be a non-profit institution but it is not a charity.

The Clinton Global Initiative is also not a charity. According to the New York Times, it’s a “glitzy annual gathering of chief executives, heads of state and celebrities.” Those who attend it may do charitable work. But their main purpose in attending is to see and be seen talking about being charitable. The same can be said of the event itself.

Schuler’s answer to Tobin’s question is pithier still: “No, it isn’t. It’s a personal holding company, something it has been held should be taxed at personal income rates for most of the last century.”

Tobin, an excellent writer, is a neoconservative who can easily be dismissed as reflexively anti-Democrat. Schuler, a Scoop Jackson Democrat, not so much. Politically, I’m positioned between Tobin and Schuler, albeit much closer to the latter. Having spent a number of years working in the nonprofit sector—albeit at a think tank that didn’t pretend to be a “charity”—I’m not especially scandalized by the report as fascinated by it.

The line in the excerpt from Tobin above that really stands out to me is, “It may be a non-profit institution but it is not a charity.” That, in my judgment, is exactly right. Tobin’s follow-on analysis is, well, less than charitable.

The business model here is all about the show of charity and, as our Abe Greenwald wrote on Monday, primarily interested in lauding a “class of global VIP celebrating its good works.” That doesn’t help many poor people, but it did aid the Clintons in their effort to attract wealthy, self-interested donors who preferred to give to a foundation that could advance their personal political and economic agendas rather than aid the poor.

Technically speaking this isn’t a scam, since the Clintons’ donors know exactly what they are getting. Indeed, many of them may well have gotten their money’s worth of influence by giving money to the ex-president and a sitting secretary of state and would-be president. If so, that is a scandal and one that ought to disqualify Hillary Clinton for consideration for the presidency.

But though it may not be illegal, it is not quite the noble cause to which we’re all supposed to pay homage. What’s more, the “mistakes” the foundation has made in its filings are leading to reasonable suspicions that we have just started to scratch the surface of its questionable dealings. Those liberals that are dedicating themselves to rationalizing and apologizing for the foundation may find that they have taken on a task that is in the process of becoming a full-time and increasingly impossible job.

My take is less harsh. There’s no need for the “technically” and “may” qualifiers here: there’s nothing even remotely problematic legally here and Tobin is quite right that the “donors know exactly what they are getting.” It’s an access game, with the Clintons selling both their celebrity and their power. While that might be ethically problematic in a different environment, it’s not obviously different from any of the rest of the selling of access that’s part and parcel of American national politics. Candidates and incumbents alike spend a great deal of their time schmoozing with the wealthy in order to finance their careers. That bothers me substantially but it’s not fixable at acceptable cost.

Additionally, my strong hunch is that the various Clinton charity-like institutions are not much different from those run by non-political celebrities like Bono’s ONE Foundation or Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation, which spend next to nothing on the causes they purportedly support. For that matter, the vast majority of charities are scams by Tobin’s standard, in that most of them spend virtually everything they raise on salaries, events, self-promotion, and the like and very little on feeding the poor, curing cancer, and other activities around which they fundraise. A CNN report from a couple years back:

— The 50 worst charities in America devote less than 4% of donations raised to direct cash aid. Some charities gave even less. Over a decade, one diabetes charity raised nearly $14 million and gave about $10,000 to patients. Six spent no cash at all on their cause.

— Even as they plead for financial support, operators at many of the 50 worst charities have lied to donors about where their money goes, taken multiple salaries, secretly paid themselves consulting fees or arranged fund-raising contracts with friends. One cancer charity paid a company owned by the president’s son nearly $18 million over eight years to solicit funds. A medical charity paid its biggest research grant to its president’s own for-profit company.

— Some nonprofits are little more than fronts for fund-raising companies, which bankroll their startup costs, lock them into exclusive contracts at exorbitant rates and even drive the charities into debt. Florida-based Project Cure has raised more than $65 million since 1998, but every year has wound up owing its fundraiser more than what was raised. According to its latest financial filing, the nonprofit is $3 million in debt.

— To disguise the meager amount of money that reaches those in need, charities use accounting tricks and inflate the value of donated dollar-store cast-offs – snack cakes and air fresheners – that they give to dying cancer patients and homeless veterans.

Many of the above are outright scams. But even venerable charities like the United Way run into scandals over how they spend their money. Very few give nearly as much money to the causes around which they’re ostensibly centered that their donors believe. And many simply focus their efforts on “awareness” rather than actually solving problems.

My sense is that the Clinton foundations are an admixture. Bill, in particular, is genuinely interested in applying his considerable talents in helping solve real problems. He’s also not above using his celebrity, former office, wife’s past and possible future offices, and the aura of a global “charity” to keep his profile high and rake in big bucks. That the foundations, speech circuit, and campaigns are all part of a seamless web is a feature, not a bug, to the Clintons’ interests and ambitions, if somewhat inconvenient for the active campaign season. Then again, reading the discussion threads on several postings here pointing to questions about the various Clinton nonprofits, I’m quite sure that few people predisposed to like the Clintons much care.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Modulo Myself says:

    The Clinton Health Access Initiative is separate from the Clinton Foundation. The 88% figure comes from combining both. Meanwhile, the Foundation claims it hires its own staff with donated money to perform charitable work. That’s why the money it gives out in grant form is so low, relatively. The basic explanation for this is that it gives the Foundation more control over what is happening. Rather than dole out grant money in third-world countries, they’re hiring people on the ground.

  2. Pangloss says:

    Hillary did exactly what the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act forbids, albeit in the mirror image. She accepted what our own government would consider a bribe if received overseas.

    An op-ed by two lawyers in the Wall Street Journal explains this, noting that when American companies give money to foreign charities the way foreign companies gave money to the Clinton foundation, it is considered a crime and an example of corruption in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act:

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-double-standard-windfall-for-the-clintons-1430176314

    Corporate gifts to foreign charities have been treated as illegal bribes—resulting in million-dollar penalties.

    By Shannen W. Coffin And Michael J. Edney

    Consider these facts: The chairman of a Canadian company named Uranium One reportedly donated $2.35 million to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. At the same time the company was seeking U.S. government approval to sell a 51% controlling stake to Rosatom, the state-owned Russian nuclear agency. Meanwhile, a Russian investment bank with close ties to the Kremlin paid former President Bill Clinton a half-million dollars to speak in Moscow. . . . imagine if similar payments, under similar circumstances, were made by a U.S. company to a charity closely associated with, say, the Nigerian foreign minister. The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission would be banging on that firm’s doors, asserting serious violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
    That’s the law prohibiting U.S. companies from providing anything of value to a foreign official for the purpose of obtaining a favorable action. It is invoked frequently to scrutinize the overseas operations of American businesses. When federal law-enforcement agents even suspect that it has been violated, these companies are overrun with lawyers investigating every trace of alleged wrongdoing. The investigations often end the careers of the company officials allegedly responsible and culminate in fines and payments totaling many millions. One recent settlement was for $772 million. To avoid that fate, American companies spend huge sums on compliance reviews to prevent even the appearance of impropriety.
    This antibribery provision is applied to overseas charities as well. The official guide on compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act states that charitable giving cannot be “used as a vehicle to conceal payments made to corruptly influence foreign officials.”
    In separate settlements with the SEC, U.S. pharmaceutical companies Schering-Plough (since merged with Merck) and Eli Lilly paid substantial civil penalties for modest contributions—$76,000 and $39,000, respectively—to the Chudow Castle Foundation, a Polish charity that restores local castles. That foundation’s president was also a government official overseeing local hospital funding, including pharmaceutical purchases. The U.S. government concluded that there was no other purpose for the castle donations than to influence his official decisions. Schering-Plough paid a $500,000 penalty in 2004. Eli Lilly agreed to pay $29.4 million in 2012, though that settlement was for a wide range of practices not only in Poland but elsewhere as well. Neither company admitted guilt.
    What counts as corruption abroad is apparently viewed as good citizenship here at home.

  3. Modulo Myself says:

    @Pangloss:

    And if a law was passed limiting domestic corporate contributions to political groups, the WSJ would call it a First Amendment violation. This isn’t about the money, it’s about hating Hillary Clinton.

  4. Modulo Myself says:

    It’s amazing the degree to which Republicans cripple themselves when faced with the financial dealings of the Clintons. Jim McDougal ripped them off with Whitewater, so we better have several special prosecutors look into how they benefited from being scammed. Then they set up a charity with an ‘innovative’ business model, which should be catnip for conservatives, at least the ones who believe in charity. But wait–we’ll analyze (or whatever it is that the fifth-raters at Commentary and Federalist are attempting to do) this charity as if they set up differently, and hope no one notices.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    While that might be ethically problematic in a different environment, it’s not obviously different from any of the rest of the selling of access that’s part and parcel of American national politics. Candidates and incumbents alike spend a great deal of their time schmoozing with the wealthy in order to finance their careers.

    This. To get upset over this it takes a person who believes that the main thrust of all the various Tea Party organizations are NOT political.

  6. Hal_10000 says:

    Jim McDougal ripped them off with Whitewater, so we better have several special prosecutors look into how they benefited from being scammed

    That’s an interesting read on Whitewater. And not at all what the investigation found.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    This partisan site…The Federalist (and Fat Rushbo – that paragon of truth)…has to ignore a lot of facts and claims in order to make the argument that the Clinton Foundation spends 80% and not 88% on charitable work.

    According to 2013 tax forms filed by the Clinton Foundation, a mere 80 percent of the organization’s expenditures were characterized as functional programmatic expenses. That’s a far cry from the 88 percent claimed by the organization just last week.

    10% +/- is a far cry???
    Let’s keep in mind that 80% is on par with the better organizations…the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance suggests a minimum of 65%.

    reading the discussion threads on several postings here pointing to questions about the various Clinton nonprofits, I’m quite sure that few people predisposed to like the Clintons much care.

    You need to bring something more to the table than partisans like Fat Rushbo and a 10% discrepancy (which still leaves the Clinton Foundation 15% above a recommended minimum) to make me much care.
    Just sayin’

  8. Modulo Myself says:

    @Hal_10000:

    What did it find? Nothing, basically. If an obsessed sleazeball tobacco attorney like Starr couldn’t find evidence of wrongdoing, there was no wrongdoing. The best they could get was to twist guys like McDougal, or that nutty judge Hale, into making unsubstantiated claims.

  9. C. Clavin says:

    The Clintons claim that they do a lot of their work in-house.
    Fat Rushbo claims that it’s all fancy first class travel and expensive meals.
    Absent any proof to the contrary I’ll believe them over Fat Rushbo. But that’s just me based on the previous record of the parties involved.
    I must say that since the recession our firm has brought much of the work that we previously doled out to consultants in-house…as it is far more cost effective.
    Is the argument here that the Clinton Foundation has an obligation to give money to other organizations, that also have ~20% overhead expenses, rather than doing the work themselves?
    Like many of the Clinton scandals…I don’t see any there there.
    At least not based on this.

  10. Pangloss says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    If what you say is true, then I guess the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board just doesn’t get it when it comes to corruption, since federal law bans corporate donations to politicians’ campaigns, and even individual donations can be capped to discourage corruption under the Supreme Court’s Buckley decision.

    But I don’t see how that’s relevant to the point made by the lawyers quoted above (who were not the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board), that Hillary did exactly what the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act forbids, albeit in the mirror image. She accepted what our own government would consider a bribe if received overseas.

    They aren’t the Journal’s editorial board, but seem to be reputable lawyers who actually know something about the subject.

  11. Slugger says:

    The power of money in American politics is too great and has turned our system into a plutocracy. The Supreme Court has turned corporations into people and money into speech leading to this situation. Perhaps, it is wrong to blame the Supreme Court. This might reflect a flaw in our constitution. It needs to be fixed.
    Originally there were incorporation laws to shield people from liability and some tax exemptions designed to help eleemosynary organizations achieve their goals. These good ideas have been twisted into a bizarre growth industry. We recently discussed the NFL deciding about its not-for-profit status while paying its CEO $35 to 40 million per year. The Clintons are taking advantage of our weird laws. Don’t hate the player; hate the game. This needs to be changed.
    I propose that the laws governing corporations be changed to limit their ability to claim every damn action as a charity and limit their ability to influence politics. If this requires a constitutional amendment, so be it. Corporations as we know them largely arose after 1850, and the authors of the Constitution simply did not foresee their effect. Jefferson thought we’d be a nation of farmers. The Clintons are a symptom and far from the only thing we should worry about.

  12. jukeboxgrad says:

    Pangloss:

    reputable lawyers

    Writing for National Review is enough to make the lead author presumptively non-reputable. Likewise for his history as general counsel for Dick Cheney.

  13. stonetools says:

    Here’s the dilemma for the media. The Clintons have been relatively transparent in disclosing financial records with respect to their Foundation. But they haven’t been completely transparent. So it is relatively easy for the media to report on the Clinton Foundation records , to note whatever irregularities exist, and to opine that if the Clintons were only completely transparent, these controversies would magically go away. This is of course nonsense. Everything we know of the last 25 years of the Clinton coverage indicate that the right Wing BS machine would generate further “scandals” and investigations to be discussed ad nauseum on Fox News and on talk radio.
    OTOH, the flow of money to Republican candidates is secret (thanks, Supreme Court; thanks Republican Party). The only way to report on these flows is to break the law: to hack into the Adelson bank accounts or to break into Rubio’s campaign offices.Since the MSM can’t really do this ( or encourage people to this) they can only futilely complain about the complete lack of transparency from the Republicans and report on what they can report on : the Clinton’s records (to which there is much more access ).

    Note the position of the USA Today’s editorial board:

    There is no evidence of a quid pro quo for the Giustra contributions, or from any other source. And Hillary Clinton was not involved in the decision to allow the Russian purchase.
    Even so, the appearance of impropriety is hard to avoid. So is the likelihood that some of the donors think they are getting something for their money — if not a favorable ruling on something immediate, at least gratitude or recognition from the Clintons that could open doors later.

    The only people who don’t seem to recognize this are the Clintons themselves. In an interview with NBC on Monday, Bill Clinton dismissed this type of criticism as “a deliberate attempt to take the foundation down.”

    As Hillary Clinton begins her second quest for the White House, the foundation has once again decided to limit governmental contributions, this time to a handful of Western democratic nations. Given the problems it has had in following its own rules, this might not be enough.

    If she really wants to be president, she needs to put the foundation’s work on ice during her campaign. That would eliminate the appearance of a back channel to the corridors of power. It would also help establish whether the foundation’s donors are more interested in addressing social problems, or cozying up to the Clintons

    Note the conclusion: there is no evidence that HRC is doing anything wrong, but it looks fishy, at least to virtuous good government liberals. Meanwhile , have there been any reports about the Adelson’s direct gifts to Rubio, or editorial opinions about that? Nope,because the reporters can’t legally get access to Adelson’s or Rubio’s records.
    From the Clinton’s POV, it does look indeed unfair that the media is giving them hell over contributions to the charitable foundation, while ignoring the Republican shenagians. My view: it’s time that the media stop doing the easy bank shot of opining about the Clintons and get cracking on doing some REAL reporting: finding a Deep Throat in the Koch organization, or getting the goods on what’s really going with the Rubio or Jeb Bush finances. You can opine all you want about the Clintons once you get the goods on the other side.

  14. Neil Hudelson says:

    Since conservatives seem to be getting their panties in a twist over spending a mere 20% on administrative expenses* I thought this video would be appropriate. It’s a really novel way of thinking about nonprofit administrative expenses:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pallotta_the_way_we_think_about_charity_is_dead_wrong?language=en

    *A few months ago I left an NGO who had a policy of holding admin expenses to 11%. The only way to achieve that for almost any organization is to simply have half the number of staff needed to be effective, and work them 90 – 100 hours a week.

  15. stonetools says:

    What the Clinton Foundation actually does:

    “There has never been anything like the Clinton Global Initiative,” he said, “where you’ve raised over $100 billion worth of stuff that helped 43 million people in 180 countries.”

    He was talking about good works like the “Wings to Fly” program that has helped 10,000 poor kids in Kenya attend high school.

    The program has been a whopping success, with 94 percent of the kids graduating and 98 percent of them going on to college.

    The foundation is involved in a vast array of projects, from a vaccination center in Tanzania to an elephant research center in the Samburu District of Kenya.

    While in Tanzania, he and 20 of the foundation’s big donors also visited the Anchor Farm Project which is expected to produce huge yields of maize and soy and to help locals learn new agricultural techniques. They connected with a group called “Solar Sisters” that empowers women by selling environmentally friendly products such as solar lights and cook stoves.

    They are headed Monday to Liberia — where they helped the government combat HIV/AIDS and coordinated delivery of medical equipment and supplies during the Ebola epidemic — to see several survivors.

    In Nairobi, he and his daughter Chelsea personally helped fit a group of children with hearing aids in support of the Starkey Hearing Foundation, which went from providing 50,000 of the devices a year to 175,000 with assistance from Clinton’s group.

    Sounds that the Clintons are doing a LOT more good than Schwietzer and the rest of the Clinton critics. Does Schwietzer even give a cent for poor kids in Africa that anyone has ever heard of?
    I understand that Clintons are doing well out of doing good. But they ARE doing good. Their critics? Not so much.

  16. C. Clavin says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Too many nonprofits, he says, are rewarded for how little they spend — not for what they get done.

    Excellent point.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/10/-this-is-not-charity/306197/

  17. Hal_10000 says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    You know, one of the things that is most depressing about a potential second Clinton reign is going to be people running out to defend them for every slimy thing they do.

    First, I know Ken Starr is hated on the left. But he’s the only one in the entire mess I thought acted honorably, Republican or Democrat. He didn’t seek out investigations. He was assigned investigations by the AG because Clinton kept doing slimy stuff. He didn’t bring charges he couldn’t get convictions on — unlike, say, the Iran-Contra Special Prosecutor. He (and later Ray) closed off numerous investigations (e.g., Travelgate) when they concluded that nothing illegal was done. And when he was finished, he said that Special Prosecutor position should be eliminated. Slimy lawyer? From someone who is defending the damned Clintons. Give me a break.

    As for nothing to Whitewater: as I said on the other thread, it resulted in forty felony convictions, including Clinton’s business partners and lieutenant governor. Despite the Left’s continued claims that they were “cleared”, the conclusion of the Ray Report was that they could not prove criminal wrongdoing beyond a doubt. Read Ray’s summary where he details the things Clinton was accused of and, in some case, cites specific evidence supporting those claims. In all cases, he doesn’t conclude they were innocent but that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.

    Man, I am not looking forward to the next 4-8 years. I had enough of this “he was honest by the standards of Arkansas compared to Watergate and the economies doing well anyway” garbage in the 90’s. I don’t need any more of it.

  18. jukeboxgrad says:

    forty felony convictions, including Clinton’s business partners and lieutenant governor

    It would be better if you didn’t imply that forty people were convicted.

  19. Loviatar says:

    I’ve stopped commenting here because I found my anger voice becoming more and more dominant . As we’ve seen recently with HarvardLaw92, rarely does anything good come from commenting in anger, so I decided to no longer comment.

    I’m also now walking away from visiting this site, Doug, James and it seems Dave have returned to the Clinton masturbation era and as one who’ve lived through it once I really don’t want to live through it again. As today will be my last day visiting I’d like to ask for recommendations to center right sites that haven’t gone all Clinton hate.

  20. stonetools says:

    @Hal_10000:

    None of everything you said proves the Clintions did a damned thing wrong with their current Foundation. Hell, it doesn’t proved they did a damned thing wrong in the Whitewater affair. All you’ve proved is that people made a lot of unfounded allegations ( Clinton killed Vince Foster! Someone near Clinton did something wrong! People falsely accused the Clintons of something! Hillary was a lesbian!”).

    The Whitewater affair was a whole lot of cum Clinton, ergo propter Clinton wrapped around a blowjob and right wing angst that they couldn’t pin anything on the guy they just KNEW was doing wrong.
    Whitewater did enable the construction of the gigantic right wing BS machine that they tried to use on Obama. Obama didn’t have a big financial deal in his back ground. OTOH, he was black, so they pursued that line instead.The nature of the scandals were different: but the scandal mongering approach was the same. A big difference was that Obama and the media were ready for the BS this time and were quicker and more adept in defence.

  21. Hal_10000 says:

    @stonetools:

    None of everything you said proves the Clintions did a damned thing wrong with their current Foundation

    No, it doesn’t. It does however tell of a group of people who engage in slimy behavior and worshipful supporters who will excuse anything. The Clinton could club a baby seal to death on stage and people would insist it was all Republicans’ fault.

    All you’ve proved is that people made a lot of unfounded allegations ( Clinton killed Vince Foster! Someone near Clinton did something wrong! People falsely accused the Clintons of something! Hillary was a lesbian!”)

    Yes, clearly if you criticize the Clintons for affairs that put their friends in prison and resulted in Bill surrendering his law license, you must buy into any crazy conspiracy theory around them. There’s no in between, I guess.

    The Whitewater affair was a whole lot of cum Clinton, ergo propter Clinton wrapped around a blowjob and right wing angst that they couldn’t pin anything on the guy they just KNEW was doing wrong.

    You misspelled “perjury and obstruction of justice”.

    I should let it go. The Lefty counterfactual belief that the Clinton were humble honest people whose only scandal resulted from Republican lies has been dogma for twenty years.

  22. James Pearce says:

    “Then again, reading the discussion threads on several postings here pointing to questions about the various Clinton nonprofits, I’m quite sure that few people predisposed to like the Clintons much care.”

    I’m not predisposed to like the Clintons and I don’t care.

    So they have a non-profit. I don’t have to agree with the work they’re doing.

  23. C. Clavin says:

    @Hal_10000:
    I understand you have a very partisan viewpoint but you are generally fairly reasonable so I’ll help you out a bit.
    Ken Starr was appointed and administered by a 3 judge panel…two Republican appointees and a Carter appointee. One of the judges, David Sentelle, was selected by right wing extremist Justice William Rehnquist. Sentelle had previously worked for another right wing extremist, Jesse Helms.
    The Independent Counsel previous to Starr, Robert Fiske, in 1994 found nothing in the Vince Foster case. Sentelle insisted on continuing the Whitewater investigation and replaced the moderate Fiske with Starr who had the appropriate right-wing resume. Starr also had a conflict of interest in representing Tobacco – Bill Clinton was Tobacco’s number one enemy. Not content with re-investigating Vince Foster and Whitewater, which went no where, Starr recieved authority to expand his investigations to include the firing of WH Travel Office staff, political abuse of FBI files, Madison Guaranty, the Rose Law Firm, and Paula Jones. After several years an millions of taxpayers dollars Starr found…a blow job.
    Honorable? Not so much. And neither was his handler, David Sentelle.

  24. James Joyner says:

    @Loviatar:

    I’m also now walking away from visiting this site, Doug, James and it seems Dave have returned to the Clinton masturbation era and as one who’ve lived through it once I really don’t want to live through it again

    Hillary Clinton is running essentially unopposed for the Democratic nomination for president and has a wide (albeit very early) lead over every single plausible Republican nominee for an election to be held in 18 months. If she wins, she’ll be president for four, and possibly eight, years. Almost by definition, then, political blogs—and political commentary writ large–are going to spend a lot of time scrutinizing the Clintons.

    While there have been a lot of posts pointing to questions about the various Clinton nonprofits, I don’t think any of them have been remotely shrill or conspiratorial. This posting in particular is at worst ambivalent if not largely exculpatory. This bit sums up the analysis:

    It’s an access game, with the Clintons selling both their celebrity and their power. While that might be ethically problematic in a different environment, it’s not obviously different from any of the rest of the selling of access that’s part and parcel of American national politics. Candidates and incumbents alike spend a great deal of their time schmoozing with the wealthy in order to finance their careers. That bothers me substantially but it’s not fixable at acceptable cost.

    That’s not exactly scathing!

    We’re also writing lots of posts (well, not so much me—work has consumed most of my writing time of late but should get better for a while) about the Republican candidates, most rather dismissively. Once that race shapes up, we’ll almost certainly have more postings on the apparent frontrunners there.

  25. Modulo Myself says:

    @Hal_10000:

    You can’t post that link and expect people to just leap to your side. From that link it’s clear that Starr had no intention of trying to prove an actual conspiracy involving Clinton and McDougal. There’s no there there. How could he have? Instead we get a laundry list of incongruities and statements made by people under indictment about Bill Clinton.

    As far as Starr himself goes, he was a disorganized mess. The exact kind of Republican who piously decided to invade Iraq and then feels good about the whole thing five years later.

  26. Davebo says:

    @James Joyner:

    That’s not exactly scathing!

    And yet there have been easily a half dozen posts by you and Doug pointing out claims made (this one in Commentary Magazine no less!) about the Clinton Foundation re-hashing, over and over again, obvious non stories by, to be kind, less than respectable sources.

    It’s a circle jerk of “Is it irresponsible to speculate? It is irresponsible not to!”

    Now in fairness you haven’t accused Hillary of being blackmailed by Fidel Castro yet but one begins to think it’s just a matter of time. And be honest James, you probably still believe Peggy Noonan is a respected journalist right?

    Frankly at this point I’m amazed you haven’t quoted Chuck Norris.

  27. C. Clavin says:
  28. Tillman says:

    @Hal_10000:

    I should let it go. The Lefty counterfactual belief that the Clinton were humble honest people whose only scandal resulted from Republican lies has been dogma for twenty years.

    You have to admit, the Republicans gave them ammunition for such epistemic closure when they decided perjury to cloak an extramarital affair constituted a high crime worth impeachment.

    And of course there’s no in-between. The activists think it’s a war, and they’ll speak in language appropriate for one. This means holding one’s nose to pull the lever becomes criticism, and the other side can use criticism to convince stupid Americans to vote against their own interests. Don’t you get it, Hal? You’re giving the enemy weapons! You’re committing frickin’ treason! 🙂

  29. stonetools says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Clearly , you suffer from Clinton Derangement Syndrome. You probably believe, like many right wingers, that the Clintons ate kittens for breakfast while worshipping Satan during their years in the White House ( hey, I can straw-man too).
    The FACTS are that Bill Clinton was proved guilty of nothing more than philandering and lying about it. He certainly sullied his own reputation(and that of the White House) because of it, but then he wasn’t the first philanderer in the WH( and probably won’t be the last). At least he didn’t sell weapons to the enemy in order to fund an illegal dirty war in Central America ( like Reagan) or lie 4,000 Americans to their deaths ( like GWB). Compared to those guys, Clinton doesn’t look that bad, frankly.
    Glad you admit that nothing the Clintons did or didn’t do 15 years ago proves anything with relation to their Foundation. That’s the only note of sanity I pulled out of your two minutes of Clinton (and Clinton supporter) hate. Maybe we can go from there.

  30. Tillman says:

    @stonetools: It’s literally your reaction to any criticism he seems to hate, not the Clintons specifically.

  31. stonetools says:

    @Tillman:

    The irritating thing about this is that I, like many liberals here, am no Clinton lover-far from it. But I can’t help but defend them when they are subjected to the kind of unhinged diatribe that many right wingers apparently think is legitimate criticism.

  32. James Joyner says:

    @Davebo:

    And yet there have been easily a half dozen posts by you and Doug pointing out claims made (this one in Commentary Magazine no less!) about the Clinton Foundation re-hashing, over and over again, obvious non stories by, to be kind, less than respectable sources.

    Most of the stories have been in mainstream press outlets, including NYT and WaPo. Commentary is politically biased but mostly highly intelligent analysis. Regardless, the post here doesn’t argue that the assertions are true because Tobin is making them but rather that he brings forth some good point but buries the most reasonable conclusions beneath some breathless analysis at the end.

    Now in fairness you haven’t accused Hillary of being blackmailed by Fidel Castro yet but one begins to think it’s just a matter of time.

    That’s just silliness, hardly conducive to a constructive debate.

    And be honest James, you probably still believe Peggy Noonan is a respected journalist right?

    I think she’s a gifted wordsmith and a past-her-prime editorial writer. But, aside from quoting her a while back making a perfectly reasonable point about politicians’ fascination with “House of Cards,” I haven’t read or cited her in years.

  33. James Joyner says:

    @stonetools:

    when they are subjected to the kind of unhinged diatribe that many right wingers apparently think is legitimate criticism.

    Part of what irritates me about the Clintons is that any questioning of them is somehow an “unhinged diatribe” and part of a vast right wing conspiracy.

  34. Tillman says:

    @stonetools: But then it can come back and bite you on the ass when you complain about your shibboleths and begin using two different standards to judge essentially the same phenomenon. James is good about this: he admits Toobin’s criticism of the Clintons was correct-ish, but also noted that Toobin’s criticism applies to nearly every other charity. It turns it both into an empty criticism and highlights the partisan nature of making it against the Clintons specifically.

    Or maybe it’s just a matter of civil language, I don’t know. Polarization’s a tough cookie. And it’s not as if double standards are a new thing in the human experience.

  35. Modulo Myself says:

    James is good about this: he admits Toobin’s criticism of the Clintons was correct-ish, but also noted that Toobin’s criticism applies to nearly every other charity.

    It was actually way incorrect. The Clinton Foundation hires people directly rather than give out grants. Toobin seems to miss this entirely, and only focuses on expenditures that are grants. If the Clinton Foundation is not functioning as a charity, you have to look at what it is that the staff is doing. There’s been nothing about that.

    And I’m going to make a wild prediction and state that neither Toobin nor James will bother to think about this.

  36. C. Clavin says:

    @James Joyner:

    any questioning of them is somehow an “unhinged diatribe” and part of a vast right wing conspiracy

    Don’t you think after more than two decades on the crappy end of fruit-less witch-hunting they are justified? Seriously…this post is complaining that their philanthropic foundation has a 20% overhead instead of just 12%. And it’s the second post on the topic in as many days. I mean…that’s hardly “any questioning of them”. It’s an unending storm of unsubstantiated BS.
    I’m no real fan of Mrs. Clinton…but if I’m sick and tired of the nonsense I can only imagine how they feel.

  37. Davebo says:

    @James Joyner:

    Forget Tobin for a minute (we all should but that’s beside the point) and let’s concentrate on your own assertion in the post.

    Additionally, my strong hunch is that the various Clinton charity-like institutions are not much different from those run by non-political celebrities like Bono’s ONE Foundation or Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation, which spend next to nothing on the causes they purportedly support.

    What are yo basing this “strong hunch” on? And given the suggestion by Modulo in these very comments have you re-thought this hunch?

    And if so, why not share that with us instead.

    Alternatively, you could affirm that you still believe Tobin’s “good point(s)”.

    You’ve suffered from at least one classic blunder in the past on these pages James and I think most all have taken your change of heart on the matter as honest. I’d argue more than one but we can probably agree on at least that.

    I’m just curious if you still believe what you believed when you posted the above line.

  38. James Joyner says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Seriously…this post is complaining that their philanthropic foundation has a 20% overhead instead of just 12%.

    No, it’s not. The complaint that spawned the post is that the Foundation spend 90% of what it takes in on salaries, travel, and other “overhead” and only 10% on what most people would consider charity. My response is that, as the accuser admits, people who donate know exactly what they’re getting.

    @Modulo Myself:

    If the Clinton Foundation is not functioning as a charity, you have to look at what it is that the staff is doing. There’s been nothing about that.

    And I’m going to make a wild prediction and state that neither Toobin nor James will bother to think about this.

    This post and others are evidence of doing just that: thinking about this. The nonprofit world is extremely complicated for reasons noted by PunditFact and the TED talk referenced upthread. My take–biased as it is against the Clintons—is that the Clintons are playing the game within the rules, if perhaps a little glibly.

  39. Davebo says:

    Meanwhile we don’t seem to hear much about other stories have been in mainstream press outlets here.

  40. C. Clavin says:

    @James Joyner:
    From the Federalist article:

    According to 2013 tax forms filed by the Clinton Foundation, a mere 80 percent of the organization’s expenditures were characterized as functional programmatic expenses. That’s a far cry from the 88 percent claimed by the organization just last week.

    That’s the only fact he has.
    Now…he does go on to ignore other facts and details of how the philanthropic foundation actually works…but as I said…that’s just another storm of unsubstantiated BS. Which you gladly parrot.

  41. Modulo Myself says:

    @James Joyner:

    What game? The game where grant money is replaced by staff? Going beyond Bill Clinton’s image, are the people hired part of this game also in it for the Clintons, or are they doing actual charitable work, albeit paid by rather than funded by the Clinton Foundation?

    If they’re doing charitable work, then the whole question is settled. And yet that’s what was left uncovered. Strange that. It’s like nobody wants to know.

  42. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “Part of what irritates me about the Clintons is that any questioning of them is somehow an “unhinged diatribe” and part of a vast right wing conspiracy.”

    The questioning in this case was done by a Senior Editor for Breitbart (which I hope you will concede is VRWC Central).

    The questioner has already been proven wrong on his allegations about Obama (see items mentioned in the Wikipedia article I cited).

    The questioner has admitted that he has no proof that Clinton has done anything wrong, saying he left it for others to investigate.

    So it is hardly unreasonable to start from the assumption that this is more of the same sort of breathless reporting with reckless disregard for the truth of a piece with allegations of Clinton drug smuggling, Hillary’s illicit affairs with Vincent Foster, etc.

    If and when some actual hard evidence comes in, that’s another story. But “analysis” by someone with as obvious an agenda as Tobin, with no new evidence should be looked at as an unhinged diatribe, since nearly everything else he writes is.

  43. al-Ameda says:

    The permanent investigation of the Clintons continues unabated. Seeing as how we’re now in the early stages of the permanent presidential campaign this scrutiny is to be expected. The Clintons are big boys and girls, they’re used to accusations of wrongdoing, and they can handle this stuff.

    It would be interesting indeed if the Clintons were to be found guilty of ANY wrongdoing beyond lying about sex.

  44. michael reynolds says:

    I’m only interested in the political effect of all this. American politics is as corrupt as New Jersey or Louisiana or Nigeria. Much of that is thanks to the Republican Supreme Court that decided, “Eh, who gives a damn about elections?” and turned our elections over to billionaires as a new toy for them to play with. So forgive me if I’m not even remotely upset by this.

    As a political matter, I’ll repeat what I said in another thread: timing is everything, and this is too early by at least six or eight months. The only effect at this stage is to 1) encourage primary opponents and 2) inoculate Ms. Clinton.

    You don’t throw your best mud in May of the year before the election. Just stupid. But then we Democrats are lucky in our choice of enemies.

    It’s a premature ejaculation of oppo.

  45. Davebo says:

    @Moosebreath:

    One mans unadulterated bullshit is another man’s highly intelligent analysis!

    You see it doesn’t matter that the post admits the allegations are baseless nor that the accuser has a long history of propagating said bullshit on some of the most bizarre news outlets on the planet.

    Because The Clinton Foundation is Not Really a Charity!!!

    Responsible people operating beyond the noise, Outside the Beltway say so after all.

  46. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Loviatar: Right of any shape that has not “gone all Clinton hate” is hard to find. Good luck in your search. Not a fan of Hillary myself, but my problem is all the clown show that goes along with electing her. Same as with Jeb. Either one of them would probably be not terrible (about the best we can expect given the selection pool), but the sideshow will be fatiguing.

  47. michael reynolds says:

    @Loviatar:

    Don’t disappear, this is the best political discussion online. Now, you may say that’s a low bar, but really this is mostly a fun place.

  48. Xenos says:

    @stonetools: Another lefty non-Clinton lover here.

    But there is not another iteration of Obama ready to step up (I think we will be in great shape in 6-8 years, ), so I will work with what we got.

    She is not great, and she is subject to making catastrophically bad choices on a number of issues. But there are no Republicans half as sane as she is. No Republican will even appeal for my support, as they prefer to spend their time demonizing people who are not in their camp. I know lots of sane Republicans, but know of no sane Republican politician.

  49. stonetools says:

    @Xenos:
    One of the the problems of the insane universe the we live in is that in a sane universe, it would be possible for liberals to have a discussion about the influence of big money donors on the Clintons. But in the current universe, objections of the Republicans to the Clinton charity are seen as the transparent tactic that it is. Republicans pretty much built the system whereby which secret big money donors can buy access to politicans. The Republican Supreme Court majority blessed that is simply as exercise of the donors’ First Amendment rights.
    Now Schwietzer tries to draw the distinction that it is the influence of FOREIGN donors that is unacceptable: the influence of secret domestic donors is just fine.
    IRL, of course, that is a specious distinction:it is political corruption either way. Even if we buy such a distinction,however, it’s easy enough for a foreign donor to buy access to an American presidential candidate just by flowing the donation through some innocuous sounding shell corporation (“Friends of China”, for example , or “Petroluem Producers for America”). They can do this because again, the Republicans oppose any and all campaign finance disclosure requirements.

    At this point, the ONLY way to accomplish any kind of campaign finance reform is to elect a Democratic political candidate (however tainted), and to have them appoint two liberal leaning judges to the SCOTUS so that the court can overturn the execrable Citizens United decision.Sane liberals understand this very well, so they are impervious to any attempts to weaken support for the Democratic candidate most likely to win the Presidency 2016. Again, Republican insanity has built that unyielding support for HRC ( sorry, Hal _1000 etal.)

  50. stonetools says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker:

    Same as with Jeb. Either one of them would probably be not terrible (about the best we can expect given the selection pool), but the sideshow will be fatiguing.

    The problem is that a vote for JEB would automatically be a vote for the insane Republican political programme. So, no, a vote for JEB Bush would indeed be terrible (think Supreme Court nominations, for instance).

  51. Tillman says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker:

    Not a fan of Hillary myself, but my problem is all the clown show that goes along with electing her.

    I don’t like the Clintons, but this isn’t the reason why. Mostly it’s the extent to which they’ve made themselves synonymous with business and financial interests, and even the most glowing report on the Clinton Foundation mentions this was Bill’s idea of how the Foundation would operate: “marketizing” (not a real word) philanthropic work. It’s difficult to argue results as they are, but I’m not a fan of the philosophy that the world’s problems only need appropriate markets to solve. Sure, some injection here and there is probably appropriate, but I’m not convinced. Maybe that will change.

    I don’t fully understand the concern with Clinton baggage, though, aside from the earlier bit upthread over reactions to criticism (and in which it’s perfectly proper to criticize the criticism in good faith). Obama was nominated over Hillary in ’08 partly to avoid that baggage, but as we saw over two terms our friends on the right were capable of inventing baggage to shoulder him with. Doug even had a bit in one article over this (that I’m not going to bother finding) talking about the symbolic downside of electing someone who was part of the reason our political culture’s become polarized. I don’t see it. Our culture has been made, whether the Clintons bore significant responsibility for it or not, and obviously Hill feels comfortable enough wading back into it.

    But it will be tiresome as you say. It’s tiresome now, and I don’t see it getting better.