Politics & Policy

The Clinton Global Initiative’s Ignominious End

Bill and Hillary campaign in New York, June 2016. (Reuters photo: Shannon Stapleton)
The Clinton Foundation just vindicated its critics.

The Clinton Foundation filed papers this week warning that 22 staffers will be laid off on April 15, when the Clinton Global Initiative is formally shut down.

 

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The CGI is a program of the Clinton Foundation, centered around an annual meeting described as “the networking event of choice for corporations, nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations and wealthy philanthropists.” Before the election, when Hillary Clinton’s victory in the presidential race appeared likely, the Clinton Foundation declared that it would wind down the initiative no matter how the election turned out.

At the time, those plans made sense: It would be unseemly to say the least if a corporate- and foreign-government-funded networking event was directly connected to the sitting president. But there was never much official explanation of why CGI would need to shut down in the case of a Clinton defeat. After all, the world didn’t run out of poor people or sick people on November 8.

But after the election, some of the foundation’s donors acted as if the causes CGI supported were no longer worthy. The Australian government said it did not intend to continue its donations to the Clinton Foundation; it had given $88 million over ten years. After dramatically increasing its yearly donation in 2014 and 2015, the government of Norway chose to reduce its donation by 87 percent after the election.

Why would foreign governments suddenly lose interest in the charitable work the Clinton Foundation purported to do? They wouldn’t, unless the Clinton Foundation and CGI had existed to give foreign governments and businessmen a way to curry favor with a future president from the beginning. The April shutdown, then, makes complete sense: Why keep operating if there’s no influence left to peddle?

Clinton fans will vehemently deny that there’s anything to this cynical explanation, but the behavior of many foundation partners suggests that selling access and goodwill was a big part of the organization’s operations. Right before the election, one of the infamous WIkiLeaks documents revealed just how blurry the line was between the foundation’s non-profit activities and Bill Clinton’s for-profit activities.

In a 2011 memo to Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, John Podesta, and other members of the foundation’s board, the ex-president’s longtime aide Doug Band attempted to “clarify my activities on behalf of the President — both on behalf of non-profit Foundation activities and the management of the his [sic] for-profit business opportunities.” Band’s firm, Teneo, had consulted and raised money for the Clinton Foundation while simultaneously securing lucrative speaking and consulting gigs for the former president:

We have dedicated ourselves to helping the President secure and engage in for-profit activities — including speeches, books, and advisory service engagements. In that context, we have in effect served as agents, lawyers, managers and implementers to secure speaking, business and advisory service deals. In support of the President’s for-profit activity, we also have solicited and obtained, as appropriate, in-kind services for the President and his family — for personal travel, hospitality, vacation and the like. Neither Justin nor I are separately compensated for these activities (e.g., we do not receive a fee for, or percentage of, the more than $50 million in for-profit activity we have personally helped to secure for President Clinton to date or the $66 million in future contracts, should he choose to continue with those engagements).

With respect to business deals for his advisory services, Justin and I found, developed and brought to President Clinton multiple arrangements for him to accept or reject. Of his current 4 arrangements, we secured all of them; and, we have helped manage and maintain all of his for-profit business relationships for the past 11 years. Since 2001, President Clinton’s business arrangements have yielded more than $30 million for him personally, with $66 million to be paid out over the next nine years should he choose to continue with the current engagements.

In short, when Band and his colleagues called up wealthy individuals and institutions — all of whom would have a strong incentive to be on good terms with Hillary Clinton, the likely future president — they sought financial help for the foundation and lucrative work for Bill Clinton. The line between charitable giving and the Clintons’ personal enrichment was exceptionally blurry, and those involved knew it.

The simplest, easiest way for the Clintons, foundation donors, staffers, and allies to prove all the cynics wrong was for the foundation to operate after the election the same way it did before, proving that its purpose was genuinely charitable and altruistic rather than political. Instead, they’ve chosen to shut down CGI. The rest of us can draw our own conclusions as to why.

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