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Clinton Foundation to limit reach in event of election win

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Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton.REUTERS

WASHINGTON — The sprawling Clinton Foundation will stop accepting money from corporations and foreign governments if Hillary Clinton is elected president, a move designed to ease concerns about conflicts of interest in a potential Clinton administration, the foundation confirmed Thursday evening.

Instead, the family's organization would take funds only from American citizens and independent charities.

And, regardless of the 2016 election outcome, the charity will end the Clinton Global Initiative meetings, glittering affairs that have attracted top politicians from both main political parties and are held around the world. The forums are intended to connect wealthy donors with worthy causes.

The changes would address one of Clinton's biggest weaknesses on the campaign trail: the notion that she set up an apparatus to personally benefit from her government position. The questions around the Clinton Foundation, along with her tortured answers about her decision to use a private e-mail server as secretary of state, are two of the most potent talking points used to by Republicans to build a case that she's not trustworthy.

The Clinton Foundation appears to rely heavily on both foreign and corporate donations, though it's unclear exactly how much of the group's revenue comes from these sources.

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Since the foundation's inception, it has collected as much as $25 million from Saudi Arabia, as much as $10 million from Kuwait, and up to $5 million a piece from the Citi Foundation, Barclays Capital, and Exxonmobil.

Twenty-nine of the 30 companies on the Dow Jones exchange contributed to the foundation in some manner, according to a 2014 Bloomberg News report.

During Clinton's 2009 Senate confirmation hearings, she was repeatedly asked about how the country's chief diplomat would avoid potential conflicts with foreign donors and promised that such gifts would be disclosed and reviewed by the department.

Since she's left the post, it's become clear that many gifts weren't made public or reviewed internally, including ones made to the Boston-based Clinton Health Access Initiative, known as CHAI.

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It was unclear on Thursday evening if the ban on donations would be extended to CHAI. The group accounts for almost 60 percent of spending in the Clinton charitable empire.

The Globe reported last year that the Boston arm of the foundation saw grants from foreign governments nearly double in the years in which Clinton was running the State Department.

Bowing to pressure in April 2015, the group announced that it would restrict donations to only six Western nations and disclose its donors more frequently.

The change in foundation donation policy was first reported Thursday evening by the Associated Press, and confirmed to the Globe by Clinton Foundation spokesman Craig Minassian.

The foundation, founded by Bill Clinton after he left the White House, initially worked to provide people infected with HIV or AIDS in poor nations with access to affordable and life saving medications. It has since expanded to focus on other public health issues, including helping reduce malaria and tuberculosis infections around the world along with addressing climate change, expanding economic development, and increasing opportunities for women and girls.

It has steadily become a political liability as Hillary Clinton has become more and more prominent. Republicans and journalists have raised questions about whether the foundation donors, in particular foreign governments, gave money in exchange for access to Clinton as secretary of state.

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Those concerns were highlighted this month when a batch of State Department e-mails were released that showed coziness between Bill Clinton's top staff at the foundation and Hillary Clinton's top staff at the State Department.

In one e-mail exchange, the Clinton Foundation's Doug Band requested help from two top State Department official for somebody whose name was redacted. "Personnel has been sending him options," replied Huma Abedin, then a top State Department official.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump launched a petition last week urging the Department of Justice to investigate the Clinton charity.

"The Clinton Foundation has time and time again exposed itself as a culture of corruption, pay-to-play deals, and downright fraud," according to the petition.

The news about potential changes to the foundation's donor base comes as Trump has signaled he would begin focusing more on the charity. This week in a campaign shake-up he installed conservative operative Stephen Bannon, who was chairman of the Breitbart News website and helped produce a documentary based on the 2015 book "Clinton Cash," which sought to shed light on what they termed "nefarious relationships" between the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton State Department.

Several spokesmen from Clinton's presidential campaign didn't respond to e-mails requesting comment on whether Clinton personally approved the move, or whether they believe it will inoculate the campaign from Trump's attacks.

Before Trump launched his presidential bid he was a donor to the foundation, giving it at least $100,000. He never attended the Clinton Global Initiative meetings, according to a Clinton Foundation spokesperson.

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The Globe reported last year that Clinton's State Department shifted funds in Rwanda to a program championed by the Clinton Foundation, and a pet cause of Bill Clinton's.

Hillary Clinton also stepped down from the Clinton Foundation as she ramped up her presidential campaign, but her husband and daughter remain on the board of directors. Both are expected to play key roles in the White House, should she prevail in her presidential bid.

Bill Clinton made the announcement about the potential changes at a meeting Thursday afternoon with foundation staff members.

He said the foundation plans to continue its work, but intends to refocus its efforts in a process that will take up to a year to complete. He also said he will resign from the board.


Annie Linskey can be reached at annie.linskey@globe.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.