Clintons Dissolve Blind Financial Trust
Friday, June 15, 2007
Bill and Hillary Clinton have dissolved the blind trust that has managed their investments since they entered the White House in 1993, converting all stocks to cash to avoid financial conflicts as she runs for president, according to documents to be filed today with federal ethics officials.
The documents reviewed by The Washington Post provide the most complete accounting of how the Clintons accrued the $5 million to $25 million in the trust -- nearly all since leaving the White House -- through investments in foreign companies, oil giants and drugmakers without their input or knowledge and without public disclosure.
The former president has also derived substantial income from speeches to companies and interest groups as his wife runs for the White House, earning nearly $6 million in the first five months of this year on top of the $40 million he earned over the previous five years, the documents show.
In one such engagement this March, the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles paid Bill Clinton $150,000 to hear him speak, the papers show.
The former president is also working on another book and last year formed a limited-liability corporation to manage his share of an investment partnership run by longtime friend and California supermarket magnate Ronald Burkle, the Office of Government Ethics filing shows.
The Clintons were told earlier this year by federal ethics officials that they would need to reorganize their blind trust to comply with laws for presidential candidates, which differ from those for senators.
The couple chose instead to dissolve the trust on April 27 and to convert all their stocks to cash to avoid any questions about possible conflicts of interests, the Clintons' legal and financial advisers said. Their portfolio will be limited to cash accounts and U.S. Treasury notes, the advisers said.
In doing so, the Clintons will incur a large capital gains tax bill for 2007 and will reduce their ability to earn new money because savings accounts and certificates of deposit traditionally offer lower rates of return than Wall Street, the advisers said. In all, the Clintons have total assets of $10 million to $50 million with no substantial debts.
"Senator Clinton and the president chose to go above and beyond to avoid even the hint of a conflict of interest. They recognize that this choice comes at a personal expense, both in terms of taxes and lower investment returns," said Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for the senator's presidential campaign.
Presidential candidates frequently must answer questions about their investments -- especially those involving companies whose records might conflict with the candidates' positions or policies. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), for instance, promptly divested stocks this spring in companies that do business in the Darfur region of Sudan after those stocks attracted attention.
Likewise, former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) has fielded questions about his consulting work and $1 million-plus stake in a hedge fund whose overseas tax breaks and investments in subprime lenders raised questions of conflicts with Edwards's positions on those issues.
The Clintons' wealth is relatively new. They came from Arkansas to the White House in 1993 with modest means and left deeply in debt, with legal bills from various political scandals totaling more than $10 million. But they quickly erased the debt and amassed wealth through best-selling books about their lives and Bill Clinton's global speechmaking, which commands as much as $350,000 per appearance.
The listing of stocks that had been in the Clintons' blind trust provides a glimpse of the type of questions the former first couple might have faced if they decided to remain invested in the stock market -- even with a blind-trust adviser making investment choices without their knowledge or input.
For instance, the blind trust managed by Citigroup was heavily invested in overseas companies, including $30,000 to $100,000 in two Asian companies -- Hong Kong and China Gas, and Hutchison Whampoa. The latter was involved in a controversy last year because of it received a U.S. contract to scan some U.S.-bound ships for nuclear material. Some lawmakers worried that the work could allow China to gain access to sensitive U.S. technologies because Hutchison Whampoa executives have business connections to the Chinese government.
The Clintons' broad investment portfolio also included a stake of at least $1.6 million in blue-chip U.S. drugmakers such as GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Abbott Laboratories and Eli Lilly. Sen. Clinton has long been a proponent of overhauling health care and making drugs less expensive. The couple also had significant investments in large oil companies such as Anadarko Petroleum, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil and chemical makers Dow Chemical and DuPont at a time when questions at Democratic debates focused on gasoline prices, global warming and pollution.
While the assets of the blind trust are gone, Bill Clinton's stake in the Yucaipa Global Holdings fund run by Burkle is just beginning. "President Clinton anticipates continuing his business activities as long as they permit him to devote most of his time to his highest priorities -- the work of his foundation around the world and supporting his wife's candidacy," spokesman Jay Carson said.
The fund, which has paid the former president as an adviser, spent its first years attracting capital and then in 2006 made its first three investments -- all in overseas companies. The documents show that Bill Clinton holds a stake valued at $200,000 to $450,000 in the fund, which has invested in Garrard Worldwide Holdings, a famous British diamond company; Easy Bill Limited, an Indian data-processing company; and Brazilian Renewable Energy Co., an ethanol maker.