Clinton Connections Paid Off for Indonesian Tobacco Tycoon’s Group

Foundation donor hired Clinton supporters to successfully lobby for U.S. support

Putera Sampoerna / AP
May 14, 2015

An Indonesian tobacco magnate secured U.S. government assistance for his foundation after donating to Hillary Clinton’s and hiring lobbyists, themselves Clinton Foundation donors, who worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

The Putera Sampoerna Foundation, founded by the Indonesian tobacco heir Putera Sampoerna, got the U.S. government to underwrite millions in loans offered by the foundation and secured high-profile support for its activities from Sec. Clinton and other senior federal officials.

Sampoerna’s financial ties to the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and some of its major supporters could raise additional questions about its donors’ favorable treatment by the State Department while Clinton helmed the agency.

The PSF is one of those donors: it has contributed between $1,000 and $5,000 in 2008. A Clinton Foundation spokesman said that the donation was a membership fee for the Clinton Global Initiative’s 2008 meeting in Hong Kong.

According to PSF’s website, Bill Clinton personally invited them to represent Indonesia at the meeting.

At that meeting, PSF made a $7-million commitment to education efforts in Indonesia. The funding did not go through the Clinton Foundation, but a press release touted the commitment and Bill Clinton’s role in "convening" businesses and nonprofits to steer money towards major policy goals.

That convening power is a frequent tool of the Clinton Foundation, according to Peter Schweizer, whose book Clinton Cash sparked a recent controversy over donors to the foundation.

"The Clintons’ ability to convene various public and private interests around a common cause or project does create leverage for getting things done in the global arena. But [it] also creates opportunity for moving a lot of money around with very little accountability," Schweizer wrote in his book.

"This approach positions the Clinton Foundation in a way a politician could especially love: with little direct responsibility, it is able to take credit for good results and avoid blame for bad ones."

The PSF was established in 2001 and remains one of the largest charitable organizations in Indonesia. Putera Sampoerna is one of the country’s wealthiest men. He inherited his family’s PT HM Sampoerna Tbk tobacco company, running it from 1978 until 2000. Phillip Morris International bought 97 percent of the company, including Sampoerna’s stake, in 2005 for $5 billion.

Since then, Sampoerna, who was educated in Australia and Houston, Texas, has become an advocate for Western-style education in his home country, the most populous Muslim nation in the world.

PSF’s involvement with the Clinton Foundation focused on that educational mission. One of Clinton’s first trips abroad as secretary of state was to Jakarta. While there, she stressed the need for greater U.S.-Indonesia cooperation in the field of education.

That cooperation began almost immediately: A month after Clinton’s Jakarta visit, Amb. Cameron Hume arranged a meeting between Sampoerna and Iowa State University officials who said they were very interesting in establishing a "higher education partnership."

The PSF said it would put $30 million toward the partnership contingent on matching funds from a U.S. university. State jumped at the opportunity, according to a cable from the U.S. Embassy revealed by Wikileaks.

The partnership would have "major benefits to the U.S.," the embassy wrote. "This is neither an easy task nor within our traditional statecraft and public diplomacy structures," it added. But the deal would "create a critical network of personal relationships and partnerships."

Sampoerna planned to visit Washington, where he asked embassy officials to set up meetings with "State, USDA, USAID, or other relevant agencies," according to the cable.

Sampoerna expected easy approval of the deal on the U.S. end. However, it did not go as planned. So he turned to a lobbying firm with deep ties to Sec. Clinton.

Ickes & Enright is run by Harold Ickes, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff and a senior staffer on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, and his wife, Janice Enright, also a former Clinton White House official and a top Hillary 2008 operative.

Together, the two have donated between $11,000 and $30,000 to the Clinton Foundation. Their firm did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

"He thought this would be a slam dunk," Enright said of Sampoerna, who sensed that his foundation’s goals were aligned with American interests. "We said welcome to how the U.S. government works."

Ickes and Enright registered as PSF’s lobbyists in 2009, saying they would work on education and foreign policy issues. Sampoerna said he wanted "U.S. validation" for his foundation and its educational mission.

The PSF struck a deal with Iowa State just months later. "Last fall," the university said in 2010, "Iowa State officials also joined with the Sampoerna Foundation of Indonesia at the request of the U.S. State Department to help establish the Sampoerna School of Education in the country."

The university did not immediately respond to question about the program.

The PSF also got the validation it craved from top U.S. government officials. Sampoerna was invited to speak at an April 2010 State event alongside the heads of USAID and the U.S. Export-Import Bank, as well as Melody Barnes, a top White House official. Clinton and President Obama also spoke at the event.

The following March, Scot Marciel, the new U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, spoke at an event at the FSP’s Jakarta headquarters announcing a new Sampoerna higher education program. The next month, Marciel attended the fair, which was cosponsored by Hewlett Packard, a seven-figure Clinton Foundation donor.

Clinton again traveled to Indonesia in July, where she lauded the creation of that country’s chapter of a program called "Partners for a New Beginning." A State news release noted PSF’s involvement.

"In partnership with the Sampoerna Foundation, ExxonMobil has committed $3 million over the next 3 years to support long-term, high-impact programs to reach young people who need it most," the release said.

Like HP, Exxon Mobil has donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation. An Exxon Mobil spokesman said the company "neither sought nor received any special treatment or consideration on any policy initiative" from Clinton or her foundation. HP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other agencies with close ties to State were more direct in their support. In October 2011, USAID agreed to guarantee $5 million in loans for Indonesian students. The loans were provided by the PSF and UBS AG, which has donated between $50,000 and $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation.

Clinton’s role in facilitating these transactions is unclear. Her presidential campaign referred questions to the foundation, which said that it played no role in advancing Sampoerna’s interests before the U.S. government.

The PSF did not respond to requests for comment.

Published under: Clinton Foundation