The headline from the New York Post on the falling fortunes of the Clinton Foundation doesn’t quite do this story justice. The foundation took a big hit in donations, which might make sense for a pay-to-play operation after the defeat of its high-profile namesake in a presidential election, or her departure from office earlier. This, however, is neither; the collapse in support came in 2015:
Donations to the Clinton Foundation nose-dived last year amid Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, pay-to-play allegations, internal strife and a black mark from a charity watchdog.
Contributions fell by 37 percent to $108 million, down from $172 million in 2014, according to the group’s latest tax filings.
The cash plummeted as Hillary Clinton left the nonprofit in April 2015 after announcing her ill-fated candidacy. The foundation became a major issue in the race, with Donald Trump vowing to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate it.
The Clintons’ earnings on the speaking circuit took a big hit in 2015, too:
Not only did contributions drop, but so did revenue the Clintons brought in from speeches. That income fell to $357,500 from $3.6 million in 2014.
That’s more explainable in the context of a presidential primary campaign. Even without the Clintons’ baggage, there would be very little opportunity to pursue a professional speaking career while running for president. It takes every opportunity to raise funds, connect with donors in other ways, and to meet and greet voters to succeed. Plus, Democrats began complaining very early in 2015 about speaking fees demanded by both Hillary and Bill from colleges and universities, and any kind of engagement at all from the financial sector. They put their lucrative speaking circuits on hold in order to tamp down criticism of their business model.
The drop in Clinton Foundation revenues seems a little more mysterious. Hillary left the State Department in early 2013, and her presidential ambitions were hardly a secret. Cash poured into those coffers throughout 2014 as people sought to gain access and influence with a potential future president. By 2015, though, both Hillary and Bill had to distance themselves from the foundation, both to keep it at arms’ length politically and to focus on the election campaign. Did donors really get scared off by the allegations of pay-to-play, or just lost interest because they had less ability to connect with Hillary and Bill?
That’s no longer a problem. Hillary and Bill have all the time in the world now to run their family foundation, and to get back on the speaking circuit — assuming they want to do so any longer, and that the rent-seeking institutions that wrote them the biggest checks still see them as worthy of investment. However, we won’t really know whether the Clinton Foundation model will survive a lack of access to power until after 2017’s tax returns are made public two years from now. If their donors keep pushing cash into their high-overhead operations in the year after the Clintons got booted from power for good, then perhaps we can assume that their magic works in the non-profit world on its own. Given the sponsor flight from the Clinton Global Initiative over the past couple of years and the ethical dark shadows that continue to swirl around the foundation, it seems unlikely to be the case. And by that time, few will probably care anyway.