It didn’t take long for Hillary Clinton to run into trouble in her fledgling presidential campaign.
Just two weeks after Clinton formally entered the race, the acting chief executive of the Clinton Foundation had to issue a blog post under the headline, “A Commitment to Honesty, Transparency and Accountability.” In the post, Maura Pally acknowledged “mistakes” regarding the foundation’s reporting on some of its tax forms and reiterated the foundation’s commitment to being open about its work and it donors.
Bill and Hillary Clinton have been subject to plenty of right-wing scandal-mongering where none existed from Whitewater real estate deals to Vince Foster’s suicide to Benghazi. But this speculation about the propriety of the foundation’s foreign fundraising while Hillary Clinton was serving as secretary of state may prove merited. The scrutiny has been stirred by a forthcoming book, “Clinton Cash,” by conservative author Peter Schweizer. In the book, Schweizer charges that the State Department under Clinton gave preferential treatment to foundation donors.
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Whether those charges will hold up awaits vetting by the media, especially the The New York Times and Washington Post, which made agreements for advance access to the book and are poring over the foundation’s donors and State Department actions.
There is clearly an opportunity for conflict when a high official is also linked to a foundation. Those seeking official favors may well see a large gift to the foundation as a way to curry it. The Clintons agreed to begin posting lists of foundation contributors before Hillary Clinton became secretary of state. And the foundation accepted some restrictions on support from foreign governments while she was in office, but it did not eliminate such gifts. Indeed, one-third of donations over $1 million to the $2 billion foundation have come from either foreign governments or foreign-based groups, according to The Washington Post. Whether this controversy deepens will depend on whether it can be shown that donors received special treatment. But even without a smoking gun, the arrangement always has had an odd aspect.
The Clintons were not the typical foundation founders in the mode of Bill Gates. They did not decide what to do with a fortune. Hillary Clinton famously said she and her husband were “dead broke” when Bill Clinton left office in January of 2001. The Clintons set about making a fortune with Bill as a former president and Hillary as a possible future president. Bill Clinton has received more than $100 million for giving speeches and one forth of those who paid him also gave to his foundation, The Post reports. Hillary, too, has worked the speech circuit for hefty six-figure fees. That unorthodox approach to funding philanthropy had led to the uncomfortable questions now.
Republicans relish the prospect of the Hillary Clinton express to the White House being derailed by the Clintons very popularity and their ability to use it to build a large foundation and their personal wealth. But what may spare Hillary Clinton from significant damage are forces that the Republicans themselves let lose. By championing the corporation-as-person and helping to knock down limits on corporate and individual contributions to super PACs, Republicans and the conservative majority of the Supreme Court have made influence buying legal.
Republican candidates are loading up on super PAC cash. Candidates who benefit from huge contributions from billionaires and corporations won’t have much standing to criticize the Clintons.