The Clinton Foundation's Potential Conflicts Could Haunt Barack Obama

Friday, January 9, 2009

IN A LETTER to the editor Tuesday, Bruce Lindsey, chairman and chief executive of the William J. Clinton Foundation, took us to task for an editorial last month suggesting that former president Bill Clinton suspend fundraising for his foundation upon the confirmation and during the tenure of his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), as secretary of state. Mr. Lindsey called our suggestion "shortsighted and dangerous." But not to see the appearance of a conflict of interest is shortsighted and potentially dangerous for one person who has enough to worry about: President-elect Barack Obama.

The good works of Mr. Clinton or his foundation are not in question. His work to lessen or eliminate the suffering brought about by HIV/AIDS and to address the challenges presented by climate change is impressive. So is his ability to raise vast sums for his foundation to tackle these issues. The money comes from sources in the United States and abroad. What has always been worrisome is that such prodigious fundraising could set up the potential of someone looking to curry favor with Ms. Clinton by making a sizable donation to Mr. Clinton's organization. Even the appearance of a conflict could call into question the motives of both Clintons and the donor.

A prime example emerged this week as a result of Mr. Clinton disclosing his contributors as part of an agreement with Mr. Obama that smoothed Ms. Clinton's nomination. The New York Times reported Sunday that upstate New York developer Robert J. Congel gave $100,000 to Mr. Clinton's foundation in November 2004, one month after enactment of a law, first supported by Ms. Clinton in 2000, that gave Mr. Congel access to tax-exempt "green bonds" to build the Destiny USA shopping complex in Syracuse. Nine months later Ms. Clinton secured $5 million in funding for road construction at the complex. We hasten to point out that Ms. Clinton was joined by other members of the New York delegation in urging passage of both bills, including the state's senior senator, Charles E. Schumer (D).

While Mr. Clinton's fundraising has been an appearance of a conflict waiting to happen with his wife a senator, it will only get worse and more troublesome once Ms. Clinton is confirmed as secretary of state. Per the agreement with Mr. Obama, a list of who is bankrolling the foundation will be released once a year. Only new donations from foreign governments will be examined by government ethics officials. And there is no prior review of donations from foreign companies or individuals or those in the United States with interests overseas. Mr. Clinton's continued globetrotting while collecting checks along the way could embarrass the administration on multiple, sensitive and dangerous fronts.

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