Will Clinton Foundation Be A Liability For Hillary Clinton?
Do the nonprofit's foreign donors create a conflict of interest?
Once again, the Clinton Foundation is being cited as creating a conflict of interest for Hillary Clinton’s political ambitions.
AP (“For Clinton, her family foundation may pose campaign risks“):
The foundation launched by former President Bill Clinton more than a decade ago has battled HIV and AIDS in Africa, educated millions of children and fed the poor and hungry around the globe. It also has the potential to become a political risk for Hillary Rodham Clinton as she moves toward a second presidential campaign.
The former secretary of state has struggled with some recent bad headlines over large donations given to the foundation by foreign governments in the past two years, and the $200 million-plus the organization has raised since 2013, ahead of her anticipated White House campaign.
Republicans contend that foreign governments donating to a foundation led by a potential U.S. president creates unacceptable conflicts of interests. Also, the involvement of big money reinforces a long-standing narrative pushed by the GOP of the Clintons as a couple who frequently mix business and politics.
“Unless Hillary Clinton immediately reinstates the ban on foreign countries giving to her foundation and returns the millions of dollars these governments have already donated, she’s setting an incredibly dangerous precedent,” said the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus. “The American people are not about to elect a president in Hillary Clinton who could expose them to the demands of foreign governments because they dumped massive sums of cash into her foundation.”
This comes across as concern trolling, given that Priebus would surely be happy if the Democrats nominated a candidate he was confident the American people would reject. But it’s not just Republicans asking these questions. While almost all of the high level Democrats quoted in the piece defend Clinton, some are skeptical:
Yet the influx of corporate and foreign money just before a potential Hillary Clinton campaign has caused some anxiety within her party.
“There was a reason they stopped taking foreign government donations when Hillary was secretary of state,” said Mike Carberry, a Johnson County, Iowa, supervisor and former county Democratic chairman. He said the foundation should reinstate the policies used from 2009 to 2013. “It doesn’t seem right.”
The Foundation has taken a compromise position in the past:
The foundation, which is scheduled to hold events in Morocco and Greece this spring, defended its financial support and addressed how it might function if Clinton runs for president. If she seeks office again, something taken as a given by most, the foundation said it would ensure its policies and practices are “appropriate, just as we did when she served as secretary of state.”
In 2009, when Clinton became President Barack Obama’s chief diplomat, the foundation stopped raising money from foreign governments. The fundraising involving non-U.S. entities resumed in 2013, after she left his administration.
The Wall Street Journal last week reported the foundation had received money in 2014 from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman and others. The Washington Post reported the charity has raised nearly $2 billion since the former president started it in 2001. About one-third of its donations of $1 million or more come from foreign governments or non-U.S. entities, the newspaper found.
Now, I tend to be skeptical of the notion that donations, whether to campaigns or foundations, impact decision-making all that much. But there’s no denying that they buy access. So, while I don’t think the amount of money given by Morocco, Greece, Saudi Arabia, etc. would change the foreign policy decisions of a President Hillary Clinton one iota, she’ll presumably be aware that they’d been generous to the Clinton Foundation. And, to the extent that impacts the Clinton foreign policy, I’m not sure why it matters whether the money came in while she was a private citizen.
Many of the same donors to the Clintons’ political campaigns have given money to the foundation. Dennis Cheng, a former Hillary Clinton campaign fundraiser, recently left the foundation as its chief development officer and is expected to be a top fundraiser for her expected campaign.
The examination of the foundation’s finances come as many Democrats want Clinton to take on a more populist economic agenda that would demand more oversight of Wall Street firms. It also follows efforts by Democrats to scrutinize Republican Mitt Romney’s business practices in 2012 and tie Republican candidates to millions of dollars provided by the Koch Brothers and their business interests.
Beyond the headlines, many Democrats say it shows the need for Clinton to begin actively campaigning and build an apparatus better suited to rapidly respond to these types of critiques.
“There’s a vacuum,” said Tom Henderson, the chairman of the Polk County, Iowa, Democrats, who noted potential candidates such as former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb are visiting soon. “She isn’t doing anything” in Iowa, he said.
There’s something to that, I suppose, but given that she’s the odds-on frontrunner even moreso than she was in 2008, it’s very much in her interest to delay becoming a formal candidate as long as possible. She has essentially frozen the race at this point.
At the end of the day, I don’t think the Foundation will be a major campaign issue. If anything, it’s likely more a positive than a negative given the general sense that it’s doing good work. But nonprofits inevitably take money from people of questionable motivation and character.