On Thursday, the Clinton Foundation announced that, should former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton become president, the foundation will no longer accept foreign or corporate donations.
If that promise sounds familiar, it is because it roughly mirrors the one made by the foundation in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. The MOU [PDF] claims the Clinton Foundation will go beyond the State Department’s ethics guidelines and not accept donations that would show even the “appearance of conflicts of interests.”
In practice, however, the Clinton Foundation continued to accept problematic foreign and corporate donations while Clinton served as secretary of state: Saudi donors got a major weapons deal, Russian donors got Uranium concessions, Colombian donors got help with energy investments, and energy corporations like TransCanada donated while the Clinton State Department reviewed their energy deals.
The Clinton Foundation often served as an intermediary between wealthy individuals and the US State Department. Emails released under the Freedom of Information Act show the foundation setting up a meeting with a wealthy Lebanese donor and the US ambassador to Lebanon. A major Clinton Foundation donor from Ukraine got meetings with the State Department over allegations his company was engaging in illegal steel dumping in the US.
The more one looks into the Clinton Foundation, the more it seems clear it is an organization based on trading cash for access to and favors from the Clinton political network. Not only did the foundation lead to political support among elites for Clinton’s candidacy for president, but both she and former President Bill Clinton received millions in personal speaking fees from foundation donors.
But what about the “charitable works?” That is what is supposed to justify all of this sleazy deal-making and influence-peddling. A look into what the foundation actually does is a lesson in the shadowy game of public relations.
The Clinton Foundation often facilitates “Commitments to Action” made by corporations to engage in good works. By one estimate, “The Commitments to Action signed by people who attend the invitation-only Clinton Global Initiative events serve as more than 95% of the Foundation’s claimed ‘results.’ The agreements are the basis for the Foundation’s public statements that ‘millions of people worldwide have their lives improved.'”
Is a commitment a result? No. And it appears as though the Clinton Foundation has scrubbed many of those “Commitments to Action” from their website—not that they were legally binding anyway, or that specific. The commitments are often phrased in vague language, with only a promise to attempt to make changes, to work on it. In other words, the kind of empty PR drivel one will typically see in “raising awareness” campaigns—no substantial impact on the issue, but lots of mutual praise, glad-handing, and brand visibility.
So, to recap, while the Clinton Foundation has been a great way to trade cash from foreign governments, corporations, and various oligarchs for favors from the US State Department, it does little actual charitable work. It would be no great loss to shut it down completely.