Politics & Policy

The Clinton Foundation Must Go

(Reuters photo: Lucy Nicholson)
Donors will continue trying to buy Hillary’s good will if she’s elected.

Michael Tomasky, hardly a regular critic of the Clintons, declares, “The Clintons should shut the foundation down.” The Boston Globe editorial board, hardly a mainstay of the vast right-wing conspiracy, concurs.

So far the Clintons refuse to acknowledge any reason to shut down their foundation. They contend that a few minor cosmetic changes will be sufficient to remove any concerns of corruption, favor-trading, or conflicts of interest. Their insistence that the foundation continue to operate, and that its duties and resources not be turned over to other charitable organizations, is deliberately obtuse.

Assume that the Clinton Foundation continued to operate during a Hillary Clinton presidency under the existing donation rules. If you’re Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait, or Algeria, or any other country that wants something from the new administration — arms sales, a more generous interpretation of your human-rights record, assistance in a dispute with your neighbors — why wouldn’t you make a big donation to the Clinton Foundation? What’s the downside?

Is it guaranteed to get you what you want from the Clinton administration? No, but it’s hard to believe it would hurt. A generous gesture is, at the very least, almost certain to come to the president’s attention eventually, no matter how much she keeps her distance from the foundation. And if you don’t get what you want, you’ll still get good press from the photo-op of your ambassador handing that large check to the foundation as he offers some boilerplate about how important it is to help earthquake victims in Haiti, or eradicate AIDS in Africa, or promote women’s rights.

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Of course, if good press was all a foreign government was after, it could just as easily write a check to the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, OxFam, Direct Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti, and so on. Charity Navigator is bursting at the seams with nonprofit organizations that do exactly what the Clinton Foundation purports to do. But a donation to those other organizations won’t win brownie points with anyone nearly as powerful as the Clintons.

Is there a limit to how big a favor a Clinton administration would be willing to grant? Probably. Is there a guarantee that a Clinton administration would give a donating country exactly what it wanted? No. But the new spin is that foundation donors got “access” rather than any quid-pro-quo special favors from Hillary Clinton’s State Department. Of course, access is a prerequisite for favors and policy changes. You and I are unlikely to get a meeting with John Kerry just by asking for one. If there was a John Kerry Foundation, and we wrote a six- or seven-figure check to it, common sense dictates that our odds of getting a meeting would improve considerably.

As of now, the Clinton Foundation won’t alter any of its practices until Hillary wins election.  But even after that point, the changes they propose making would be almost meaningless.

The president should not have a personal foundation that accepts unlimited donations from anyone while she’s setting policy.

Barring donations from foreign governments? Almost every foreign government has at least one friendly billionaire or multi-millionaire willing to donate on its behalf in exchange for later favors. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan never paid Bill Clinton $1.4 million for two speeches; Nigerian entrepreneur Nduka Obaigbena, owner of the Lagos-based newspaper company THISDAY, paid the fees. Obaigbena just happens to be close to the ruling party in Nigeria.

Accepting only contributions from U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and U.S.-based independent foundations? Why should anyone assume there’s not a single U.S. citizen who’s willing to make donations to the Clinton Foundation on behalf of a foreign country in exchange for favors down the road? You’ll recall that one of the allegations troubling Paul Manafort was that he had worked on behalf of a Ukranian political party, steering its money into U.S. lobbying firms without disclosing it.

#related#Foundations are traditionally created by people who are past the point in their careers where they seek to set public policy. All former presidents have their presidential libraries, and are free to take lucrative speaking gigs from whomever they like, because while they may still have influence in their parties, they’re unlikely to get a bill passed or a regulation changed. The Clinton Foundation was always an oddity because anyone could donate anything, knowing it was run in part by Hillary Clinton, a sitting senator, then the secretary of state, and now almost certainly the next president of the United States.

Becoming the most powerful person on the face of God’s green Earth requires some sacrifices: You lose some of your privacy, you’ll never anonymously walk a street again, and you’ll live with a cumbersome security detail for the rest of your life. It never needed saying before now, but the president should not have a personal foundation that accepts unlimited donations from anyone while she’s setting policy, either.

It is revealing that the Clintons find this to be an unreasonable imposition upon them.

— Jim Geraghty is National Review’s senior political correspondent.

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