Clinton Foundation Will Continue to Accept Foreign Cash

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Image courtesy of Hillary Clinton for President

Clinton Foundation Will Continue to Accept Foreign Cash
| published April 16, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton Thursday Review editor

The Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton is rolling forward at full speed. Clinton put to rest more than 30 months of speculation last weekend with her Sunday announcement via a video released on Twitter and other social media—a video in which she said she indeed intended to run for President in 2016.

Clinton will also make a traditional live-event announcement of her campaign later this month.

Within hours, several Republican candidates—along with some potential GOP contenders—were already in attack mode, hitting Clinton with the sort of heavy ordnance we can expect to experience more-or-less continuously for the next 80 or so weeks.

Marco Rubio, who announced his own intention to run for President earlier this week, called Clinton a politician of a failed past and serial dodger-of-accountability. Rand Paul said bluntly that U.S. foreign policy suffered mightily under Clinton’s stewardship at the Department of State, and that U.S. and allied interests abroad were deeply damaged by those mistakes and miscalculations. Both Rubio and Paul have made it clear that they relish any chance to compare their own agendas and narratives to that of Clinton.

But a decision this week by Clinton and those who manage the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation to continue to accept foreign donations could prove tricky for Clinton, who must now carefully manage how every financial decision is vetted now that she is officially running for President.

The Clinton Foundation has taken extreme heat over the last year or more for its acceptance of large contributions from dozens of countries. Among those nations who have contributed to the foundation have been Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kuwait, Taiwan, Qatar, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates. Though such lavish contributions and grants—some in the tens of millions of dollars—are technically legal, some of the cash came while Clinton was serving as Secretary of State, a possible violation of rules and guidelines established for top government officials and employees.

Making the problem more complex, reporters have determined that some correspondence related to those foreign donations may have been interspersed among all those deleted emails once housed using Clinton’s private email account and using a private server set up in the Clinton home in New York. Though the contents of those emails may never be fully known, the server and email fiasco has left the Clinton campaign dealing with the damage. Clinton has made it clear to reporters that the delated emails only contained personal correspondence, and the State Department says it is working full-time to release the remaining 30,000-plus emails.

The money which flows with generosity into the Clinton Foundation may prove to be a more complex issue. The foundation’s board has announced that some foreign contributions will be halted immediately, but funds from other countries will be allowed to continue to arrive. The foundation will continue to receive donations from several key U.S. allies: Canada, Australia, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The Clinton Foundation has also announced its intention to release its financial data every quarter, as opposed to its previous tradition of reporting its balance sheets and records once per year. Political analysts say that clearly Clinton and her team hope to blunt the criticism that the foundation has been acting as a shadowy front organization to channel foreign money into political or diplomatic leverage in the United States.

The Clinton team and those at the foundation have frequently touted the organization’s transparency and accountability, and often cite the foundation’s good works on initiatives ranging from climate change and global warming to energy, to public health and the advancement of women worldwide. The Clinton Foundation’s main website was updated overnight to reflect the policy changes within the non-profit, and now bears the main page headline “Our Commitment to Accountability.” The website stresses that its new information policies are transparent while retaining the foundation’s goal of “improving millions of lives.”

“In light of Secretary Clinton’s decision to run for President,” the website explains, “Secretary Clinton has stepped down from the Clinton Foundation board and, while she is a candidate for President, the Foundation will modify its policies…” The statement goes on to outline changes in which nations will be allowed to contribute and which ones cannot, and announces that future meetings of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) will be held in the United States and not abroad.

In another move designed to severe her connection to the problem, Hillary Clinton will no longer participate in decision-making by the charitable foundation.

Political analysts (including some Democratic Party strategists) say that Clinton’s move may also be an attempt to air the laundry as early as possible in her campaign. Better to let any potentially troubling information flow now, the thinking goes, as opposed to later in the campaign when eager reporters or political opponents can make deep mileage out of surprises and previously undisclosed landmines.

Media attention and the criticisms of various watchdog groups have not blunted Clinton’s decision to continue to accept cash from foreign governments, despite the foundation’s decision to limit those contributions to the six previously listed nations. Progressive groups and human rights organizations have long complained that the Clinton Foundation’s open courting of money from Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Oman and the Taiwan are tantamount to acquiescence in unacceptable forms of social behavior and anti-Democratic policies, including the suppression of dissent, control of media and speech, and vast inequalities for women.

But even the donations which may still flow in from the remaining six countries, some watchdog groups have complained, represent a way to sway U.S. policy—directly or indirectly—vis-a-vis Clinton’s candidacy or by way of her Presidency if she were to be elected in 2016. The Associated Press investigated records provided by the Clinton Foundation, covering a range of dates from early 2001 to the start of 2015, and found that there were at least 16 countries which contributed between $55 million to $130 million. But the Clinton Foundation also points out that it has many thousands of donors, many of them individuals, who contribute in smaller denominations.

But the issue of the big donors and the foreign contributors may yet prove problematic for Clinton and her campaign narrative. An Associated Press article pointed out numerous examples of potential conflicts-of-interest even among entities of the six remaining contributing nations, including Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, which aggressively supports the completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline, most of which would cross the U.S. The pipeline project is opposed by President Barack Obama, and generally contradicts the Clinton Foundation’s goal of a reduced carbon footprint and stricter U.S. emission standards.

Such complex questions—each one mired in the increasingly interconnected global economy—may also eventually come to haunt Republicans as well. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, for example, in late December 2014 severed his relationships and ties to several non-profit groups and business entities. In part, this move was meant to comply with some of the basic Federal laws regarding candidates and their holdings and business interests. But Bush was also seeking to disconnect himself from some of his investments in oil and gas companies, including some which do business with energy firms based in China. To get ahead of concerns about his wealth and his business interests, Bush has released thousands of pages of financial documents, spreadsheets, tax returns, and other material to the media and the public. Bush also released tens of thousands of emails.

At the start of her tenure at the State Department, White House officials had advised Clinton that the foundation would need to halt accepting, or soliciting, an increase in contributions from foreign countries or foreign entities. The Obama administration also requested that the foundation greatly limit foreign contributions, though the exact wording of that agreement is unclear now. Still, the Clinton Foundation continued to accept overseas cash from at least six countries during the period she served as top diplomat for the U.S.

Clinton has said that the emails she and her staff deleted were personal in nature.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Hillary Clinton Makes it Official; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; April 13, 2015.

Clinton’s Email Problems Trigger Legal Actions; Thursday Review; March 28, 2015.