While I have never intended for this blog to be political in nature, I am still very much interested in critical thinking, challenging unsubstantiated claims, and questioning data that may be misrepresented to manipulate opinion – and these days that pretty much means talking politics!
Recently I’ve heard several attacks on Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC), alleging that she took bribes in the form of donations to the Clinton Foundation in exchange for favors to foreign governments. Those are very serious allegations of treason and corruption! Frankly they seem pretty dubious to me given that a Republican-led House and Senate have shown willingness to put HRC “on trial” in multiple hearings about Benghazi and her emails – if these allegations had “meat,” why wouldn’t Hillary be on trial for them too?
Let’s take a look. To prove these allegations, we would need to show that:
A. the Clinton Foundation is some sort of “slush fund” through which HRC can take donations that would otherwise be illegal or seen as untoward.
B. foreign governments received favors in return for making donations to the Clinton Foundation during HRC’s tenure as Secretary of State (SoS).
Let’s examine each in turn:
A. The Clinton Foundation is a legitimate nonprofit that has raised more than $2B and that spends 89% of its funds fulfilling its charitable mission (according to the American Philanthropy Institute). I have had students involved in one of its projects, the Clinton Global Initiative. Charity Watch has rated it an “A” on an A+ to F scale. It is non-partisan and has frequently collaborated with charitable efforts from both Bushes. For a deeper examination of its use of funds, see this post from factcheck.org. It is legit.
But, legit or not, could it still be used as a front for HRC bribes? Before HRC became Secretary of State, she was on the Board of the Clinton Foundation. Upon her SoS appointment she resigned from the Board and a special agreement was put into place for ethics reviews of foreign donations to the foundation. HRC joined the foundation in 2013 after having left the SoS post. At no time has she or Bill ever been able to withdraw money from the foundation’s funds so it does not seem to be a “slush fund.”
It does appear that, as SoS, HRC took advice from a former adviser who was at that time employed by the Clinton Foundation. So the most damning thing you can say about her potentially nefarious SoS use of the foundation is that she was able to use it to employ someone whom she could not get hired directly into the State department.
B. The Clinton Foundation did take foreign donations while HRC was SoS, e.g. in response to the Haiti relief efforts. Eyebrows were especially raised around donations that could have impacted decisions on Russia and Algeria. All such donations except one went through State ethics reviews. Since HRC’s time as SoS the fund has provided an unprecedented level of transparency, disclosing donors annually and quarterly. No one has ever found any smoking gun of wrongdoing and, again, I’m sure many – with much more time and inclination than I – have tried.
CONCLUSION: There simply isn’t enough evidence to suggest that HRC was using the Clinton Foundation as a “slush fund” or that she was quid pro quo’ing with foreign governments as SoS. If you want to believe that HRC’s behavior was unethical, you can craft an argument that it was unethical by citing coincidence as evidence and projecting nefarious intent onto HRC’s motivations and actions. However, I don’t see anything here that would convince an objective observer that there was anything untoward going on.