Not so long ago, President Barack Obama and the rest of the Democratic party were obsessed with the possible taint of foreign money.
They saw it everywhere, even where it didn’t exist. They couldn’t stop talking about it. They practically ran their 2010 midterm campaign against foreign dollars, especially the phantom threat of secret, illegal donations funneled through the Chamber of Commerce. They called it, breathlessly, “stealing our democracy.”
Well, that was a more innocent time, back before the party was poised to nominate a presidential candidate, namely Hillary Clinton, directly connected to foreign dollars.
For the Clintons, raising foreign money is part of the family business. The Clinton Foundation — now re-dubbed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, so the whole family can share in the glory — is a fundraising juggernaut unbound by national borders.
It has raised about $2 billion during the course of its existence, and foreign governments and other foreign donors make up some of its heaviest hitters. “Rarely, if ever,” as the Washington Post put it, “has a potential commander in chief been so closely associated with an organization that has solicited financial support from foreign governments.”
The foreign fundraising continued apace even while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, a position that, in theory, has some influence over U.S. foreign policy. It’s as if the wives of George Marshall and Dean Acheson were operating as globe-trotting money vacuums, with infamously slack ethical standards, while their spouses ran Foggy Bottom.
When Hillary ascended to secretary of state, the Obama administration negotiated an agreement that allowed the Clinton Foundation to continue to raise the dollars, provided it honored some strictures. No new foreign governments were allowed to give (although Algeria fell through the cracks), and the amounts from foreign governments couldn’t exceed their prior donations.
The ethical principle here is hard to discern: If a foreign government had already been giving money, possibly to curry favor with the Clintons, it simply would have been grandfathered in.
It is true that the Clinton Foundation does good humanitarian work, but so do the Red Cross and countless other organizations, with the crucial difference that no one associated with the Red Cross is a top contender to be president of the United States.
The Clinton Foundation has represented the continuation of Bill Clinton’s operating procedure as president in a different venue, with a different coloration. What he once had excelled at as a desperate officeholder, he now does as a beloved elder statesman.
Clinton’s re-election campaign in 1996 rested on a gross money-grubbing from foreign sources, giving us the redoubtable figures who were featured in the subsequent investigation: Charlie Trie, the Little Rock, Ark., restaurateur with a bag of $460,000 in checks and money orders intended for the Clinton legal expense trust; Commerce Department official John Huang and his $1.6 million in illegal fundraising; and all manner of other disreputable characters. You almost couldn’t claim to be a shady operator with connections to China if you weren’t lending your support to Bill Clinton’s re-election.
In 2010, Democrats raised such a fuss about foreign money because they needed something to try to distract from their own unpopularity, and their charges collapsed from the weight of their own groundlessness. The Clinton Foundation’s foreign money, in contrast, is obviously very real.
Bill Clinton calls it “a good thing.” Even if all the money is aboveboard and funds only the worthiest of causes, it contributes to the wherewithal and influence of the Clintons and their political machine. There is a reason that so many of Hillary’s political donors also give to the foundation — and it’s not because they have never heard of the Red Cross.
By rights, the controversy over foreign money that Democrats tried to manufacture in 2010 should now be upon us, thanks to the party’s presumed presidential nominee. She wants to make history — as a candidate with groundbreaking connections to foreign fundraising.