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Boston charity may cut ties to Clinton Foundation after election

Hillary Clinton spoke at the Historical Society Library in New York earlier this month.
Hillary Clinton spoke at the Historical Society Library in New York earlier this month. AP/File

WASHINGTON — The Boston arm of the Clinton charitable empire will shed most of its direct ties to the Clinton family and attempt to operate as an independent nonprofit if Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election, the organization announced Wednesday.

Former president Bill Clinton, their daughter Chelsea, longtime aide Ira Magaziner, and two other members of the organization’s board of directors would step down should Hilary Clinton win and be replaced under the new arrangement. The group, currently called the Clinton Health Access Initiative, would be known only by its acronym CHAI — and the “C” would no longer stand for Clinton.

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The changes would allow the organization to continue accepting the foreign and corporate donations that it relies on to do charitable work, including increasing access to AIDS/HIV drugs in dozens of countries. Other arms of the Clinton Foundation have kept closer ties to Clinton, but pledged to stop taking foreign and corporate money if she is elected.

Magaziner, who was paid $400,000 in salary and consulting fees by the Clinton charities in 2014, would continue to be the organization's chief executive, maintaining a strong link between the group and the Clinton family.

In a statement outlining the changes, the organization said that if Clinton is elected, “CHAI would become an organization completely independent of the Clinton Foundation.’’

The Clinton Health Access Initiative, based in South Boston, is best known for negotiating lower prices for HIV/AIDS drugs for poor countries. It is by far the largest piece of the Clinton-branded charities, accounting for roughly 60 percent of the spending done by the dozen or so organizations under the Clinton name.

The health access initiative, founded by Bill Clinton in 2002, collected more than $140 million in donations in 2014, according to tax forms. It operated programs in more than 30 countries.

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Donald Trump’s campaign slammed Wednesday’s announcement as a “P.R. gimmick” and accused Hillary Clinton of “launching a fire sale on influence-buying before the November election.”

“The continued flow of foreign donations to the Clintons’ network of foundations while Hillary Clinton runs for the presidency is unacceptable, and every contribution from overseas only further compromises her ability to serve,” said Jason Miller, a Trump spokesman.

Trump has also come under fire for his own foundation, which was fined $2,500 by the Internal Revenue Service for giving a political donation in 2013 intended to benefit Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. At the time, Bondi was considering a fraud investigation into how Trump University was run. She ultimately decided not to go forward with an inquiry.

Most of the Clinton-affiliated charities are continuing to accept money until the election, which Republicans believe is providing wealthy donors a last-ditch opportunity to show their loyalty to the family.

The charitable empire totals assets exceeding $400 million and includes the Clinton Foundation, which oversees the Clinton Presidential Center along with several initiatives. There’s also an arm of the group based in Sweden, called the Clinton Foundation Insamlingsstiftelse, and another in Great Britain that’s known as the William J. Clinton Foundation UK.

Additionally, the family-branded charities include the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, which was jointly founded by the former president and Canadian mining magnate Frank Giustra. Another charitable vessel is the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an entity cofounded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation.

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The proposed changes at the Clinton Health Access Initiative underscore what critics call risky ethical terrain surrounding the Clinton-branded charities and the difficulty of winding them down or restructuring them if Hillary Clinton wins the White House. The sprawling organizations offer multiple entry points for business leaders and foreign dignitaries to curry favor from a powerful family, critics say.

Those calling for the Clintons to shutter their charitable empire include leading Democrats like Pennsylvania’s former governor Ed Rendell, who in August said the groups should disband if Clinton wins.

Magaziner’s continued involvement in the Clinton health foundation drew sharp criticism from one Democratic ally as well as from Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership, who said Magaziner should step down entirely.

“He’s too interlaced with the Clintons over the years to give it neutrality,” Eisenberg said.

Eisenberg said other changes are “steps in the right direction” and said the new board should be “truly independent” so it could hold Magaziner and the organization accountable.

Magaziner declined to be interviewed for this article. Regan Lachapelle, a spokeswoman for the charity, said the changes were made to ensure the group’s “life-saving work” continues.

Republicans have accused Clinton of setting up a pay-to-play system as secretary of state, in which Clinton Foundation charitable donors received special access to the country’s top diplomat.

Donna Shalala, president of the Clinton Foundation and a former secretary of Health and Human Services under Bill Clinton, seemed to confirm on Wednesday that Hillary Clinton had made time for meeting with foundation donors, but said no policies were changed because of these discussion.

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“I don’t see evidence that there was policy decisions made as a result of that, other than courtesy appointments,” Shalala said in an MSNBC interview. “And people in public life are used to doing that kind of — making courtesy appointments for people.”

She added: “We have to be careful that it’s not linked to policy decisions as opposed to simply seeing prominent people that ask for appointments.”

The health arm of the organization has a history of operating outside the guidelines that the other Clinton groups adhered to.

It didn’t disclose donors for years, despite Hillary Clinton’s promise to the Senate when she was confirmed as secretary of state in 2009 that her network of family foundations would do so.

The Clinton Health Access Initiative saw a spike in foreign donations while Clinton was secretary of state, but never reported or cleared the gifts with the State Department, which Clinton had also pledged to do.

The other two board members who will depart should Clinton win would be Maggie Williams, who managed Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, and Clinton lawyer and family friend Bruce Lindsey.


Annie Linskey can be reached at annie.linskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.