By Eugene Robinson
It’s far-fetched to think that Hillary Clinton’s performance of her duties as secretary of state would be influenced in any way by foreign donations to her husband’s charitable foundation. But it is naive to think that the exhaustive list of donors released Thursday by the William J. Clinton Foundation won’t provoke suspicion and give rise to conspiracy theories in parts of the world where transparency is seen as nothing more than an illusion.
President-elect Barack Obama knew that if he named Hillary Clinton to take charge of U.S. foreign policy, Bill Clinton’s charitable and business activities would be complicating factors. The former president had steadfastly resisted naming the contributors to his foundation—saying he had promised them confidentiality—and released the list only as part of a negotiated deal paving the way for his wife to become secretary of state.
Posting the list on the Internet drew so much interest that the Clinton Foundation’s computer servers were overwhelmed. The charity really could afford to buy more robust hardware: Over the past decade, it has raised nearly $500 million to pay for Clinton’s philanthropic initiatives and his presidential library.
Of the foundation’s 205,000 contributors, only 13 gave donations of $10 million or more. Among them is one sovereign government: the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This is no surprise, given Saudi Arabia’s combination of oil wealth and political savvy. But an initial scan of the list, which covers nearly 3,000 Web pages, shows tens of millions more in donations from Saudi individuals or nongovernmental organizations. The list also details donations of between $1 million and $5 million each from the governments of Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. Hillary Clinton should be prepared to answer for any perceived “tilt” toward the oil-rich sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf.
The state of Israel will have no reason to feel that it missed an opportunity. Television producer Haim Saban, who is a vocal supporter of Israel and lives there part of the year, gave between $5 million and $10 million, some of it through his family foundation. Slim-Fast diet magnate S. Daniel Abraham, who has been a board member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, donated between $1 million and $5 million; and the rest of the list is studded with well-known backers of the Jewish state.
More ominous would be any perceived tilt toward India in its bitter standoff against neighboring Pakistan. The list reports several huge donations from Indian tycoons and a high-six-figure donation from the Confederation of Indian Industry. Pakistan is not similarly represented. I know this is a ridiculously slim thread from which to hang any charge of bias, or potential bias. But India and Pakistan, in their unbounded mutual suspicion, take the concept of paranoia to a new level. I guarantee that somewhere in Islamabad a sense of grievance is already being nurtured.
The list reflects both the former president’s charitable interests and his high-wattage celebrity. Given his work to combat AIDS in Africa, it is no surprise to see the Elton John AIDS Foundation listed—nor is it shocking to run across the name of the Princess Diana Memorial Fund. That both organizations gave the foundation between $1 million and $5 million does give a sense of the circles in which Bill Clinton travels.
One smaller donation that leaps out is from Blackwater, the North Carolina-based firm that provides security for State Department personnel in Iraq. Five Blackwater guards were indicted recently on manslaughter charges for a 2007 incident in Baghdad in which unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed. The Blackwater Training Center gave the Clinton Foundation between $10,000 and $25,000. Hillary Clinton, if confirmed by the Senate, will have to decide whether to renew Blackwater’s contract.
At first perusal, there’s nothing in the list of Clinton Foundation donors to derail her confirmation. Here and there you run across a Ukrainian mogul or a businessman with interests in Kazakhstan, but nothing startling. Bill Clinton is a very important, charismatic and persuasive guy. A lot of people gave him a lot of money to do good things.
His reasons for keeping the list secret may be more personal. I noticed that one mogul who told people he was giving $10 million to the foundation is shown by the list to have donated “only” between $1 million and $5 million.
Hey, times are tough.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2008, Washington Post Writers Group
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