NYT: Say, this totally awesome Clinton Foundation smells a tad fishy

Hey, what’s a little access-selling among friends? The donor list to the Clinton Foundation has come under harsh scrutiny and criticism this week after the Wall Street Journal reported that millions of dollars had poured into its coffers from foreign governments after Hillary Clinton left the State Department. Last night, the WSJ’s James Grimaldi and Rebecca Ballhaus expanded the exposé to show that it wasn’t only foreign governments cozying up to Hillary as she prepared to run for the Democratic presidential nomination, but also a host of large corporations during her tenure as Secretary of State — while they directly lobbied State and she flacked for them abroad:

Among recent secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton was one of the most aggressive global cheerleaders for American companies, pushing governments to sign deals and change policies to the advantage of corporate giants such as General Electric Co. , Exxon Mobil Corp. , Microsoft Corp. and Boeing Co.

At the same time, those companies were among the many that gave to the Clinton family’s global foundation set up by her husband, former President Bill Clinton. At least 60 companies that lobbied the State Department during her tenure donated a total of more than $26 million to the Clinton Foundation, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of public and foundation disclosures. …

The Wall Street Journal identified the companies involved with both Clinton-family charitable endeavors and with Mrs. Clinton’s State Department by examining large corporate donations to the Clinton Foundation, then reviewing lobbying-disclosure reports filed by those companies. At least 44 of those 60 companies also participated in philanthropic projects valued at $3.2 billion that were set up though a wing of the foundation called the Clinton Global Initiative, which coordinates the projects but receives no cash for them.

Mrs. Clinton’s connections to the companies don’t end there. As secretary of state, she created 15 public-private partnerships coordinated by the State Department, and at least 25 companies contributed to those partnerships. She also sought corporate donations for another charity she co-founded, a nonprofit women’s group called Vital Voices.

Grimaldi and Ballhaus note that these aren’t illegal, but they certainly smell bad — especially for someone who wants to run for a nomination in part by appealing to progressives. They will give Republicans plenty of ammunition in a general election as well. Crony capitalism is a major issue with the grassroots of both parties, and Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation are the poster children for a culture of corruption.

It’s the connection to foreign governments that got the most attention this week, though. Juan Williams denounced the acceptance of these gifts, calling it “rank influence-peddling“:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvhrPmhGEV8

Ron Fournier called the foreign gifts “a stupid and sleazy Clinton decision“:

This is sleazy because of the clear conflicts of interest. What do these foreign countries expect in exchange for their donations? What pressure would Clinton face as president to return financial favors?

Even if you give her the benefit of the doubt (having covered the Clinton since the 1980s, I’m still willing to do that), you can’t deny that this flip-flop creates a perception of foreign favoritism in a political system that most Americans already think is corrupted by money.

And why, Fournier wonders, would a “woman power” candidate take money from Saudi Arabia?

This is stupid because it undermines the narrative of her unofficial campaign—one of the world’s most famous women challenging the “glass ceiling” of U.S. politics. Some of these donor countries have no respect for women. Saudi Arabia has such a poor record that Clinton herself praised the “brave” Saudi women who defied their nation’s ban on female drivers.

This is sleazy because her foundation takes money from countries that fund terrorism. A Wikileaks cable quoted then-Secretary of State Clinton saying, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” The United Arab Emirates also was implicated in the memo.

This is stupid because it plays into a decades-old knock on the Clintons: They’ll cut any corner for campaign cash. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton and his top aides used the White House as a tool to court and reward big donors. It was the second-biggest scandal of his presidency.

Howard Kurtz noted the amount of flak Hillary’s taking from liberals and progressives on the Clinton Foundation gifts, and says this will be a huge vulnerability for her campaign — and just as Williams said, not only in regard to the GOP but also potentially in the primaries. “I don’t know how much longer this can go on,” Kurtz said, and “I don’t think this is just nit-picking by the press”:


Perhaps that’s why the editorial board at the New York Times has decided to weigh in with its tut-tutting today. Eschewing any of the high dudgeon it would summon for a Republican who took cash from the Koch Brothers — who are at least US citizens and work through legitimate mechanisms — the Gray Lady primly advises Hillary to just be a wee bit less sleazy in the future — and one has to wade through several paragraphs of laudatory descriptions of the Clinton Foundation to get to it:

No critic has alleged a specific conflict of interest. The foundation, in fact, went beyond normal philanthropic bounds for transparency six years ago in instituting voluntary disclosure of donors within broad dollar ranges on its website. But this very information can feed criticism.

Donations from foreign governments and nationals, for example, were found to make up more than half of the category of $5-million-plus contributions, according to The Washington Post. A third of donations in the $1-million-plus bracket came from foreign governments and other overseas entities.

Substantial overlap was found between foundation contributors and familiar Clinton campaign donors and money bundlers. Considering the Clintons’ popularity and influence in their party, this is no surprise. But it does make it important that Mrs. Clinton, in defending the family’s efforts on behalf of the world’s needy, reassure the public that the foundation will not become a vehicle for insiders’ favoritism, should she run for and win the White House.

Restoring the restrictions on foreign donors would be a good way to make this point as Mrs. Clinton’s widely expected campaign moves forward.

Golly, how tough the Paper of Record gets with the Clintons! Still, the fact that the editorial board brought it up at all shows the level of panic on the establishment Left to get the Clinton Foundation’s activities — and the connections to Hillary’s actions at State — out of the public debate as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that bell can’t be unrung, even if the Clinton Foundation returns all of the money — which, it should be noted, the New York Times doesn’t even suggest. They just want the Clintons to stop accepting it from now on. Can one imagine that a Republican in a similar situation would have gotten such gentle treatment from the Gray Lady?