Conflicts of Interest Between Clinton Foundation and Donors Are Nothing New
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the 800-page, $7 million report on Hillary Clinton’s involvement in Benghazi is that there is no story. Essentially, the Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi used untold time and money to reveal that Clinton was not involved in any wrongdoing.
However, a separate report released by the minority group of Democrats on the committee is making headlines — and not for the reasons you’d think. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Democrats’ report “revealed, apparently unintentionally, details about the eye-popping amount of money a close Clinton friend and adviser made in a contract with a pro-Clinton nonprofit.” Evan Halper writes:
Democrats released but redacted a transcript of Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal answering the committee’s questions to make the point that Republicans do not want the public to know what went on during the his interrogation, during which GOP members arguably used their subpoena power to conduct political opposition research unrelated to Benghazi.
But the redaction marks are easily erased by anyone able to use a computer’s cut-and-paste function. Once the marks are lifted, the transcript portion reveals some unflattering things for any partisans on the committee, Republican or Democrat. …
[F]or Democrats, the exchange exposes once again the absurd amounts of money people in the orbit of the Clintons sometimes seem to rake in just for, well, being in the orbit of the Clintons. “I’d say it’s about $200,000 a year,” Blumenthal said when asked by a committee member how much the part-time work offering up advice and ideas was worth.
This isn’t the first time Hillary Clinton has made headlines for her economic conflicts of interest while serving in a governmental role. As David A. Graham noted in a piece published by The Atlantic last year, conflicts of interest are “utterly predictable” when it comes to the Clinton campaign. And the email controversy, which has plagued her campaign throughout election season, isn’t helping matters.
But let’s step back to a brush with transparency while Clinton served in the Obama administration. Graham wrote that while secretary of state, she swore that the Clinton Foundation would increase transparency — but her promise “soon fell by the wayside” as the foundation failed to release updated reports on its donors.
The Wall Street Journal also adds that as secretary of state, Clinton promised not to take donations from foreign investors. This promise apparently also evaporated, as it “didn’t stop the foundation from raising millions of dollars from foreigners with connections to their home governments, a review of foundation disclosures shows.” In fact, in the years after Clinton joined State in 2009, reported the WSJ, “more than a dozen foreign individuals and their foundations and companies were large donors to the Clinton Foundation… collectively giving between $34 million and $68 million, foundation records show.”
There is evidence, as well, that such donations don’t come without hopes of a reward. Chuck Ross of the Daily Caller recently reported on newly released emails in which donor Rajiv Fernando “directly asked Clinton’s State Department staff to be considered for an appointment to a board overseeing arms control issues within the agency.” In a 2009 email, Fernando wrote, “If there is any way I can be a part of the list of the final 25 I would be grateful. Please let me know if there is anything you need me to do.”
According to Ross, Fernando “has donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation and tens of thousands to Clinton’s various campaigns.” Fernando, a CEO and securities trader, was “was selected by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to serve on a key State Department intelligence board in 2011, despite having no clear background in the area,” reports CNN. Additionally, once Fernando began to receive questions from an ABC reporter, he resigned, just a month after his initial appointment.
Another aspect of the email scandal emerged in March when an email chain demonstrated communication between Clinton’s State Department and the Clinton Foundation. Mark Hensch at The Hill reports:
An August 2009 email chain shows Clinton’s staff at the department communicating with Clinton Foundation staff on how she could thank their supporters for “commitments” they made.
“It would be helpful to have [a] list of commitments during whole session so she can reference more than just those around her speech,” wrote Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s then-chief of staff at State, in a message to Amitabh Desai, then the Clinton Foundation’s director of foreign policy.
Possibly linked to these emails are reports that the State Department’s Office of Inspector General issued a subpoena to the Clinton Foundation last fall “seeking documents about the charity’s projects that may have required approval from the federal government during Hillary Clinton’s term as secretary of state.”
Prospect.org notes that it’s not just individual members who have been massive donors to the foundation. “If you click through the first few pages, which are dominated by governments, family foundations, and international NGOs, you can see the corporations that support the foundation. Some, such as Pfizer, have a less than progressive record on issues the foundation works on, such as ensuring access to medicines for HIV/AIDS patients living in poverty.”
Pfizer has since discontinued its donations to the foundation, perhaps because the Clintons began to criticize some of its largest donors while on the campaign trail. Another donor, the Johnson Controls company, “has not made any financial contributions” since summer 2015, probably because of a Hillary campaign ad “where she stood in front of Johnson Controls headquarters in Wisconsin and accused them of ‘gaming the system.’ ”
And what would happen to the Clinton Foundation, already mired in conflicts of interests, if Hillary Clinton were to become president? Even The New York Times, which has been accused of its own bias when it comes to the Clinton campaign, questions the ethics of such a scenario. Albert R. Hunt writes:
Mrs. Clinton has suggested that if she is elected, the foundation — which collects contributions from wealthy interests, including foreign governments — would continue basically as is. “The work that it’s done has been extraordinary,” she said in March when asked whether there would be any ethical concerns about continuing the foundation. “The answer is transparency.”
Ethics experts reject that answer. They say there wouldn’t be any way to avoid the appearance of conflicts if she wins the presidency. …
Joel Fleishman, who ran a foundation and has written a book on philanthropy, says the Clintons have to “sever the relationship completely and put it in the hands of independent trustees.” Mr. Fleishman says the Clintons have to pick a leader of “impeccable integrity and let it go its own way in raising money.” …
The corrective would appear to be to follow Mr. Fleishman’s advice, separate totally from the foundation and select an unimpeachable leader.
Recent incidents, such as the Democrats’ report, only provide more support to those who argue that Clinton lacks transparency. And, as The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza just reported, new releases of Clinton’s emails “poke holes” in her “initial explanation for why she decided to exclusively use a private email server for her electronic correspondence while serving as the nation’s top diplomat.” In fact, he writes, the “latest batch of emails suggest that Clinton’s filter to decide between the personal and the professional was far from foolproof.”
It seems likely that we can expect further problematic issues to arise involving Clinton and her donors as the presidential candidates race to November.
—Posted by Emma NilesWait, before you go…
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