How foreign donations to Clinton Foundation add up to baggage for Hillary

Questions about the influence of foreign donations are legitimate and Hillary Clinton needs to address them forthrightly or she may find that they don't go away.

Samantha Sais/Reuters/File
Former President Bill Clinton (l.), former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (c.), and Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation Chelsea Clinton, discuss the Clinton Global Initiative University during the closing plenary session on the second day of the 2014 Meeting of Clinton Global Initiative University at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona on March 22, 2014. Questions about foreign donors to the Clinton Foundation are weighing on Hillary Clinton's presidential prospects.

A book that isn’t set to be released for another two weeks is already starting to shake up the presidential campaign, and could pose problems for Hillary Clinton going forward:

The book does not hit shelves until May 5, but already the Republican Rand Paul has called its findings “big news” that will “shock people” and make voters “question” the candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich,” by Peter Schweizer – a 186-page investigation of donations made to the Clinton Foundation by foreign entities – is proving the most anticipated and feared book of a presidential cycle still in its infancy.

The book, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, asserts that foreign entities who made payments to the Clinton Foundation and to Mr. Clinton through high speaking fees received favors from Mrs. Clinton’s State Department in return.

“We will see a pattern of financial transactions involving the Clintons that occurred contemporaneous with favorable U.S. policy decisions benefiting those providing the funds,” Mr. Schweizer writes.

His examples include a free-trade agreement in Colombia that benefited a major foundation donor’s natural resource investments in the South American nation, development projects in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, and more than $1 million in payments to Mr. Clinton by a Canadian bank and major shareholder in the Keystone XL oil pipeline around the time the project was being debated in the State Department.

In the long lead up to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign announcement, aides proved adept in swatting down critical books as conservative propaganda, including Edward Klein’s “Blood Feud,” about tensions between the Clintons and the Obamas, and Daniel Halper’s “Clinton Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine.”

But “Clinton Cash” is potentially more unsettling, both because of its focused reporting and because major news organizations including The Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author  to pursue the story lines found in the book.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which includes Mr. Paul and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, have been briefed on the book’s findings, and its contents have already made their way into several of the Republican presidential candidates’ campaigns.

Conservative “super PACs” plan to seize on “Clinton Cash,” and a pro-Democrat super PAC has already assembled a dossier on Mr. Schweizer, a speechwriting consultant to former President George W. Bush and a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution who has contributed to the conservative website, to make the case that he has a bias against Mrs. Clinton.

And the newly assembled Clinton campaign team is planning a full-court press to diminish the book as yet another conservative hit job.

A campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon, called the book part of the Republicans’ coordinated attack strategy on Mrs. Clinton “ on twisting previously known facts into absurd conspiracy theories,” and he said “it will not be the first work of partisan-fueled fiction about the Clintons’ record, and we know it will not be the last.”

This isn’t the only story regarding the Clinton Foundation that has come out since Clinton entered the race. Over weekend, Newsweek reported that the company owned by Victor Pinchuk, who has been a top donor to the Foundation for years now, had business dealings and other ties to Iran, although there was no allegation made or evidence presented of any sort of quid pro quo related to Iran. That’s what makes this new book different, apparently since Schweizer makes specific allegations tying donations to the Foundation to policies advocated by the State Department while Hillary Clinton served as secretary of State. While the details of what’s in the book have not be released yet, the allegations made so far are similar to those raised earlier this month, that Clinton had altered her position on a Colombian trade deal and human rights in return for contributions to the Clinton Foundation. Uncovering the truth behind all of this has been difficult, though because, as Conor Friedersdorf noted in March, the Clintons have made it exceedingly difficult to “follow the money” when it comes to donations made to the Clinton Foundation from overseas.

Not surprisingly, today’s reports are being trumpeted by the conservative blogosphere, but even Jonathan Allen at Vox notes that Clinton will likely have to deal with questions and allegations regarding contributions to the Clinton Foundation for some time to come:

Critics of the Clinton Foundation portray it as an ingenious backroom pay-to-play scheme obscured by the mom-and-apple-pie work going on at the front desk. One concern is that US individuals and corporations gain access to the Clintons, curry favor with them, and use their affiliation with the former first couple to launder their brands. They’ve collected money from folks who turned out to be pretty unsavory, including Jeffrey Epstein. In return, the Clintons get money for projects that help the underprivileged, burnish their own brands, and continue to build their political network.

The other major point of contention is the foundation’s longtime practice of accepting contributions from foreign countries. Bill and Hillary Clinton agreed to suspend most of those donations while Hillary was secretary of state, but at least one – a $500,000 check from Algeria for Haitian earthquake relief – slipped through the cracks. And the Clintons resumed taking money from foreign governments after Hillary resigned from the Obama administration in early 2013. Saudi Arabia and Norway have each given between $10 million and $25 million to the Clinton Foundation since its inception, according to the organization’s records.


The truth is the foundation has undergone significant changes in management in recent years, after Chelsea Clinton was sent in to clean up what many in the Clintons’ inner circle saw as a mess. Even with those changes, the whole construct leaves Hillary Clinton vulnerable to political attack. Here’s why:

  1. It reinforces a series of powerful memes against Hillary Clinton: Republicans say she’s unwilling to play by the same rules as everyone else, and her populist turn on the campaign trail is at odds with her big-dollar fundraising, much of it from foreign governments and individuals.
  2. Perhaps more important – since most Republicans aren’t inclined to vote for her – it reminds Democrats of two toxic perceptions about Clinton within the Democratic Party: she’s too cozy with, perhaps even co-opted by, the very Wall Street and corporate titans who are most reviled on the left (Barclays, Citi, Goldman Sachs, ExxonMobil, and Walmart are all foundation supporters), and she exercises poor judgment around both the money she raises and the company she keeps.

“It fuels a narrative that’s not positive,” one House Democrat who supports Clinton’s presidential bid said in an interview Thursday on Capitol Hill. “They [the Clintons] show a real tin ear when it comes to their own behavior.”

How you feel about this story will likely depend on how you feel about the Clintons in general, and Hillary Clinton specifically. If you’re a Republican or just generally a critic, then this is likely to be seen as yet another example of Clinton chicanery. If you’re a supporter, it’s another example of Republican hysteria about the Clintons that has a history going all the way back to the 1992 campaign for president. Looking at this as objectively as possible, though, it strikes me that this is at least a legitimate question that Clinton and her campaign, as well as the former president and the Foundation, ought to address rather than dismissing it as they have in their initial comments about the book and today’s reporting in The New York Times. Even when it came to the allegations that were being made against them 20 years ago, the Clintons were quite often their own worst enemies in the way that they would respond to things like this with denials and foot-dragging rather than addressing the issue head-on. During the Whitewater investigation, for example, it took years for Clinton to produce the billing records from her time at the Rose Law Firm, and when she did the explanation for the delay was so convoluted as to defy credibility. Similarly, President Clinton’s response to the Lewinsky scandal, up to the point of arguing in a deposition over the definition of the word “is” seemed like the perfect example of that old nickname “Slick Willie.” If that’s how the campaign and the Foundation intend to handle the ongoing questions regarding foreign donations, then the questions are not going to go away anytime soon.

Doug Mataconis appears on the Outside the Beltway blog at

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