Barely two weeks after launching her presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton is embroiled in a major new scandal involving money, influence, and the Clinton Foundation and her work as secretary of state.
Even as Clinton was overseeing much of US foreign policy in her post at the State Department, her family’s foundation continued to accept donations from multinational corporations, some of whom stood to gain from her decisions as secretary — sometimes to the tune of billions.
So far, none of the revelations suggest that Hillary Clinton shared protected information with large donors or that State Department policy was shaped by contributions. But what has emerged is a clearer picture of the many entanglements between the Clinton Foundation, corporate interests, and her State Department responsibilities.
What do we know?
Much of the recent scrutiny has been inspired by conservative author Peter Schweizer and his forthcoming book “Clinton Cash,” parts of which have been shared with various media organizations. Building off that information, news organization have unearthed a variety of questionable details:
• Between 2009 and 2013, when Hillary Clinton was Secratary of State,
181 Clinton Foundation donors were also lobbying the State Department, according to a count by Vox.com
• One of the most generous Clinton Foundation donors seems to have been doing business with Iran
• The chairman of a uranium-mining company with large operations in the US made a string of substantial and well-timed donations to the Clinton Foundation even as the State Department was determining whether to approve a lucrative takeover of that company by Russian interests, according to The New York Times. The deal was approved, but those donations were not reported.
• Despite a pledge to cap donations from foreign governments during Hillary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, at least one arm of the Clinton Foundation saw a meaningful increase in such contributions, which it failed to disclose, according to the Boston Globe.
• Between 2010 and 2012, while Hillary Clinton was running the State Department, the Clinton Foundation told the IRS it had received no money from foreign governments. Reporting by Reuters has shown that this wasn’t true, and the foundation has admitted it made a mistake.
Did Hillary Clinton break the law?
Nothing that has come out so far suggests that Clinton did anything criminal. Schweizer himself has called for a criminal investigation, but hasn’t pointed to any criminal acts.
Is Bill Clinton involved?
A lot of this revolves around the relationship between Hillary and Bill. Officially, Hillary Clinton didn’t join the Clinton Foundation until after she stepped down as secratary of state. Any impropriety, then, would have had to travel from her husband’s foundation through their marriage and into the State Department.
A more direct path, however, seems to have connected Clinton Foundation donors with Bill Clinton himself, who earned at least $26 million giving speeches to major donors between 2001 and 2013. Those speaking fees apparently doubled, and in some cases tripled, when Hillary was secretary of state. In one notable case, he was paid $500,000 by a company with an interest in the uranium mining deal the State Department was evaluating.
Back up, what’s the Clinton Foundation?
Some former presidents, such as George W. Bush, prefer to stay out of the spotlight. Others, such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, find ways to continue their global work. In Clinton’s case, that meant the creation of the William J. Clinton Foundation in 2001, a charity focused on health care, economic development, and global service.
Few charities can boast a comparable ability to bring together philanthropic and business leaders to collaborate on global issues. And the Clinton Foundation has played a leading role in providing disaster relief and increasing access to AIDS treatment.
However, in recent years, the foundation has faced serious financial trouble and heightened scrutiny. In 2013, The New York Times reported that the foundation was running large deficits. Furthermore, there are lingering questions about the amount of foundation money spent on traveling costs and other noncharitable activities.
Will this scandal affect the presidential campaign?
This is hardly the first scandal involving the Clintons. From Whitewater to Hillary’s home-brew e-mail server, tumult has been part of their political lives for decades. Yet in each case, the scandal ultimately died out while their political careers marched on.
We could be witnessing the next installment of that old story, where a series of suspect coincidences and circling innuendo fails to cohere into any real evidence of a clear violation — and the campaign continues unaffected. If that doesn’t happen, many high-profile Democrats will be kicking themselves for not getting into the race sooner.
Either way, one thing this scandal demonstrates is just how thoroughly entangled big politics, big charity, and big business have become. That’s a pattern that extends well beyond the Clintons. Virtually any politician hoping to build a national campaign today needs to raise enormous sums from the very richest Americans.
If Hillary Clinton is unique, it’s because few aspiring presidential candidates can tap into the kinds of connections Bill Clinton has amassed over the years. The Clintons’ familiarity with the global elite could make it harder for Hillary to credibly campaign as the “champion” of “everyday Americans,” as she put it in her first campaign video.
But if Republicans are hoping to capitalize on that disconnect, they may have their own problem. Apparently, the same Peter Schweizer is looking into the financial dealings of Jeb Bush.