The Clintons Just Can't Help Themselves

Clinton Foundation rakes in donations from sketchy foreign governments, raising serious ethical concerns

Hillary Clinton visits Saudi Arabia (AP)
February 18, 2015

Add this to the list of things that would elicit a nuclear reaction among liberals if a conservative did it. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Bill, Hillary, & Chelsea Clinton Foundation has been raking in donations from foreign governments ahead of her presumed presidential run, raising some serious ethical concerns:

The Clinton Foundation has dropped its self-imposed ban on collecting funds from foreign governments and is winning contributions at an accelerating rate, raising ethical questions as Hillary Clinton ramps up her expected bid for the presidency.

Recent donors include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Australia, Germany, and a Canadian government agency promoting the Keystone XL pipeline.

In 2009, the Clinton Foundation stopped raising money from foreign governments after Mrs. Clinton became secretary of state. Former President Bill Clinton, who ran the foundation while his wife was at the State Department, agreed to the gift ban at the behest of the Obama administration, which worried about a secretary of state’s husband raising millions while she represented U.S. interests abroad.

The foundation has accepted at least $48 million in foreign donations since its founding in 1999. The number of countries donating in 2014 was nearly double that in the previous year. A lot of that money came from regimes with poor human rights records such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. Those countries have donated at least $14 million to the foundation over the years. (The actual amount is likely more than that, given that the donations are reported in broad ranges.) The foundation also reported a $480,000 donation from a Canadian government agency promoting the Keystone XL pipeline, which Clinton has repeatedly declined to take a position on.

Ethicists said the decision to accept the donations showed questionable judgement on Clinton’s part:

Kirk Hanson, director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in California, said the Clintons should immediately reimpose the ban, for the same reasons it was in place while Mrs. Clinton led U.S. foreign policy.

"Now that she is gearing up to run for president, the same potential exists for foreign governments to curry favor with her as a potential president of the United States," he said.

If she becomes president and deals with these nations, "she can’t recuse herself," added James Thurber, director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. "Whether it influences her decision making is questionable, but it is a legitimate thing to focus on by her political opposition."

Even liberal blogger Matt Yglesias expressed concern about the report, arguing that Clinton should immediately put a stop to the foreign donations if she is serious about running for president:

The problems with this move are so obvious that it naturally raises questions about the quality of the advice that Clinton is getting. Has she surrounded herself with people who aren't comfortable telling her she's making a mistake? Is she ignoring people who are raising obvious red flags? Is her husband and whoever he relies on for counsel just off the reservation? Whatever the answer, it doesn't look good. Her 2008 campaign famously suffered from discipline and cohesion problems and this is not a great start to 2016.

Many will recall that President Obama was so concerned about the influence of "foreign entities" in U.S. elections that he (wrongly) denounced the Supreme Court justices to their faces during his 2010 State of the Union address. "I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities," he said.

It is unclear if Obama will decline to endorse Hillary, who has made a career of taking money from America’s most powerful interests—Wall Street banks in particular—and who apparently had no reservations about ending the Clinton Foundation’s ban on foreign donations, which was enacted at the Obama administration’s request.