Donations Leave Hillary in a Cloud
WASHINGTON -- In thinking about donations to the Clinton Foundation from foreign governments and interests, an adage attributed to Benjamin Franklin and a Yiddish word come to mind.
From Franklin -- actually, from Franklin's alter ego, Poor Richard -- comes the saying, "He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas." In foreign policy, as in fundraising, lying down with dogs goes with the territory. Combine the two, and fleas become an occupational hazard.
Foreign interests, like their U.S. counterparts, may give to the Clinton Global Initiative out of the goodness of their hearts and their commitment to the foundation's many important works. They may also give motivated by the perception, whether or not reality-based, that the way to Hillary Clinton's attention is through her family's foundation.
Indeed, this was the very reason that the Obama administration and the Senate, weighing her nomination to be secretary of state in 2009, appropriately insisted that donations to the foundation be publicly reported, and that -- while existing foreign governments would be permitted to keep giving at the same levels -- new government donors or dramatically stepped-up donations would require approval from State.
But this was always an imperfect solution to a conundrum: how to allow the foundation to continue its unquestionably good programs without creating conflicts of interest for Hillary Clinton or the appearance thereof. The split-the-difference deal -- effectively limiting foreign government gifts but keeping the spigot open for private foreign (and domestic) interests -- was all but guaranteed to produce the current spate of news reports once she launched her presidential bid.
This inherent problem was exacerbated by another one, exasperatingly familiar to longtime Clinton-watchers: The agreement was imperfectly implemented while Clinton was at State and was quickly discarded once she left. Now Clinton is reaping the consequences of this toxic combination of sloppiness and greed.
Granted, there is both an ideological animus and an intellectual smarminess to some of the recent criticism; lacking a clear-cut quid pro quo, Peter Schweizer, the conservative author of the forthcoming "Clinton Cash," resorts to citing "a pattern of financial transactions involving the Clintons that occurred contemporaneous with favorable U.S. policy decisions benefiting those providing the funds." Also, there was an increase in sunspots.
But no one -- least of all Hillary Clinton -- should be surprised by this unconvincing effort to smudge the difference between correlation and causation. For heaven's sake, why not insulate yourself from the criticism sure to come?
As to the sloppiness, one problem, reported by The Washington Post's Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger, involves a $500,000 gift from the government of Algeria that violated the agreement because the gift, from a new donor, was not submitted for review.
More odiferous: The check, for the undeniably worthy cause of earthquake relief in Haiti, came at a time when the Algerian government had dramatically ramped up its lobbying activities at State, where it was under pressure for human rights violations.
Did Clinton go soft on Algeria because it sent this check to her husband's foundation? Did the foundation intentionally try to slip the check past the folks at State? I doubt it. Did Algeria give simply because its government was moved by the plight of the Haitian people? Pardon my cynicism.
Which brings us to greed, and the Yiddish word, chazer. It means "pig," but has a specific connotation of piggishness and gluttony. This is a chronic affliction of the Clintons, whether it comes to campaign fundraising (remember the Lincoln Bedroom?), compulsive speechifying (another six-figure check to speak at a public university?) or assiduous vacuuming up of foundation donations from donors of questionable character or motives.
Thus, as Hillary Clinton left the State Department -- when she was clearly contemplating running for president -- the newly renamed Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation could have done the prudent thing and kept the existing restrictions in place. Instead, the foundation quietly freed itself from the limitations, creating ethics questions that could have been avoided.
For example, a donation last year, between $250,000 and $500,000, from a Canadian agency pushing the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development agency had never before given to the foundation; Hillary Clinton, whose State Department was in charge of reviewing the pipeline, has not expressed a position on approval.
You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to question this donation. You don't have to be a political strategist to lament that the Clintonian approach to ethics seems always to err in favor of taking the check.
(c) 2015, Washington Post Writers Group