Charity begins at home: Bill Clinton shakes down school-building fund for $500K

Remember this the next time a Clinton apologist wonders why Republicans are attacking their family “charity.” The former director of a charity dedicated to building schools in impoverished nations tells the New York Times’ Deborah Sontag that she tried to get the Clinton Foundation and its celebrity leaders involved in a fund-raising effort in New York City, but kept getting rejected. Only after agreeing to shell out a half-million dollars and an award for Bill Clinton did he agree to participate:

Happy Hearts Fund first asked Mr. Clinton to be its honoree in 2011. Trying again in 2013, Ms. Nemcova sent her first formal letter of invitation in July, asking Mr. Clinton to be the primary award recipient at a Happy Hearts gala on Nov. 4, 2013, celebrating Indonesia.

Mr. Clinton’s scheduler replied with a cordial rejection — “Regrettably, he is committed to another event out of town that same evening” — in an email copied to Frank Giustra, the Canadian mining financier who is one of the Clinton Foundation’s largest donors and also a supporter of Ms. Nemcova.

Ms. Nemcova subsequently met with officers at the Clinton Foundation, Ms. Veres Royal said. Afterward, she said, “Petra called me and said we have to include an honorarium for him — that they don’t look at these things unless money is offered, and it has to be $500,000.”

The cost of the honorarium was more than the cost of the event itself, which came to less than $400,000 otherwise. The event raised $2.5 million, but Sontag notes that the fundraiser was less successful than the previous year, despite the addition of Bill Clinton to the program. It diverted money away from the sponsor of the fundraiser to a different charity entirely. Given what’s known of the Clinton Foundation’s pass-through rate, it’s safe to say that donors might be a little miffed that some of their money went elsewhere that night.

How common is it for fundraisers like this to pay honoraria to featured guests? It’s unusual on this scale, especially for someone supposedly acting on behalf of another charity, says an expert contacted by Sontag. In fact, he considers this transaction “distasteful”:

“This is primarily a small but telling example of the way the Clintons operate,” said Doug White, who directs the master’s program in fund-raising management at Columbia University. “The model has responsibility; she paid a high price for a feel-good moment with Bill Clinton. But he was riding the back of this small charity for what? A half-million bucks? I find it — what would be the word? — distasteful.”

Laura Ingraham remembers when Democrats railed about Mitt Romney spending his own money on a car elevator as the height of One Percenter arrogance:

Hey, I’m old enough to recall when Democrats spent two months attacking Ann Romney over her horses. In both cases, the Romneys spent their own money on it rather than shaking down charities for honoraria to fund those activities, and the dressage was at least in part therapeutic for Ann’s chronic illnesses.

Interestingly, Nemcova’s status as a member of the Clinton Global Initiative didn’t appear to make much difference in the price. The Hill notes that she pays $20,000 a year to retain that status, but that it’s paid off in other ways. She’s used her CGI contacts to fund schools through the Inter-American Development Bank, in which the United States is one of 48 nations in partnership. Those funds seem to originate in the post-quake relief efforts at IADB, which set aside $2.2 billion in grants for rebuilding infrastructure, including schools. CGI, as an NGO, would have no direct role in the assignment of those grants. Those grants are supposed to get approval through project team leaders at IADB, a strictly internal process. CGI lists a few projects it has through IADB, and it would be interesting to know exactly how that mechanism works for CGI partners to gain access to those funds — and whether there is a price for that, too.

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David Strom 8:31 AM on October 02, 2022