Clinton Foundation Secrets
April 25, 2008; Page A14
Transparency is a popular word in this presidential election, with all three candidates finally having released their tax returns. Yet the public still hasn't seen the records of an institution with some of the biggest potential for special-interest mischief: The William J. Clinton Foundation.
Bill Clinton established that body in 1997 while still President. It has since raised half-a-billion dollars, which has been spent on Mr. Clinton's presidential library in Arkansas and global philanthropic initiatives. The mystery remains its donors, and whether these contributors might one day seek to call in their chits with a President Hillary Clinton.
That's no small matter given the former first couple's history. Yet Mr. Clinton says he won't violate the "privacy" of donors by disclosing their names, even if his wife wins the Oval Office. What is already in the public record should make that secrecy untenable, however:
Chicago bankruptcy lawyer William Brandt Jr. pledged $1 million for the Clinton library in May 1999, at the same time the Justice Department was investigating whether he'd lied about a Clinton fundraising event. The Clinton DOJ cleared him a few months later.
Loral Space and Communications then-CEO, Bernard Schwartz, committed to $1 million in 2000, at the same time the firm was being investigated for improperly sending technology to China. Loral agreed to a $14 million fine during the Bush Administration.
A major investor in cellular firm NextWave - Bay Harbour Management - pledged $1 million in 1999, when NextWave was waiting to see if the Clinton FCC would allow it to keep its cellular licenses. NextWave didn't immediately get its licenses, and Bay Harbour never made good on its pledge.
And let's not forget the $450,000 contribution from Denise Rich, which was followed by Mr. Clinton's pardon of her fugitive husband, Marc Rich.
American citizens are limited to donating $2,300 to presidential candidates, but there are no limits on gifts to presidential foundations. We don't think there should be limits, but without disclosure the potential for political conflicts, real or apparent, is extensive. Were it not for some enterprising journalism by the New York Sun in 2004, for example, we might not know that notorious trial lawyer William Lerach had made a donation to Mr. Clinton's foundation. Lerach has since been indicted for, and pled guilty to, fraud. Would the Clinton Administration have pursued a similar fraud case?
Presidential candidates also aren't allowed to accept campaign checks from foreigners, but, again, no such restrictions apply to foundations. We know that donations to the Clinton Foundation have come from the Saudi royal family, the king of Morocco, and the governments of Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE and Brunei. Wealthy Middle Eastern businessmen have also given big.
Mr. Clinton has also accepted money from a Chinese Internet company, Alibaba, which aids the Beijing government in censoring the Web. Most recently, one of Alibaba's Chinese homepages posted a "most wanted" list of Tibetan rioters, with pictures and a phone number for informants to call. Mrs. Clinton has condemned the Chinese crackdown on Tibet, but her husband notably hasn't returned the Alibaba money.
No doubt all of these donors would say they gave their money without a single string attached, and Mr. Clinton rightly points out that other former Presidents keep their library donors under wraps. If Mr. Clinton were merely a former President building a library for history's sake, we might not worry. But he is a potential first husband whose spouse could influence countless decisions, foreign and domestic.
Mr. Clinton seems to understand the value of his mere association. Consider his relationship with Canadian financier Frank Giustra, who took Mr. Clinton on a trip to Kazakhstan in 2005, won a Kazakh mining concession, and then committed to donate more than $130 million to the Clinton Foundation. In a letter we recently published, Mr. Giustra insists his gift was entirely philanthropic and that he won the Kazakh concession on the merits.
More recently, we've also learned Mr. Clinton arranged for Mr. Giustra to meet with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe. A Canadian company that Mr. Giustra's firm was advising later acquired interests in Colombian oil fields. Some of the money Mr. Giustra has given the Clinton Foundation has been earmarked for development projects in Colombia.
How many favors has Mr. Clinton done for foreign donors? There's no way of knowing. The former President insists he's aware of no conflicts. Notably, however, donations to the Clinton Foundation soared as Mrs. Clinton neared a presidential run - to $135 million in 2006, 70% more than the year before. Somebody seems to think there is value in being generous to the Clintons.
Mrs. Clinton says the foundation is her husband's business, not hers. But as she has said in the past, a Clinton Presidency is two for the price of one. Americans deserve to know who has been donating to the Clinton Foundation.