Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former president Bill Clinton have operated a family charity since 2001, but she failed to list it on annual Senate financial disclosure reports on five occasions.
The Ethics in Government Act requires members of Congress to disclose positions they hold with any outside entity, including nonprofit foundations. Hillary Clinton has served her family foundation as treasurer and secretary since it was established in December 2001, but none of her ethics reports since then have disclosed that fact.
The foundation has enabled the Clintons to write off more than $5 million from their taxable personal income since 2001, while dispensing $1.25 million in charitable contributions over that period.
Clinton's spokesman said her failure to report the existence of the family foundation and the senator's position as an officer was an oversight. Her office immediately amended her Senate ethics reports to add that information late yesterday after receiving inquiries from The Washington Post.
"The details of the Clintons' charitable family foundation and Senator Clinton's role in it have always been publicly available, but, in an oversight that leaders of both parties have made, it was inadvertently omitted from her Senate filing, which has been corrected," Hillary Clinton's press secretary, Philippe Reines, said yesterday.
Among the institutions receiving grants from the Clinton Family Foundation were Yale University, where both attended law school; groups named for deceased heads of state in Israel and Jordan; and a charity connected to the Arkansas businessman who helped Hillary Clinton make $100,000 on a commodities trade that stirred controversy a decade ago, Internal Revenue Service reports show.
Hillary Clinton's decision to amend her Senate disclosures comes after several other high-profile politicians came under scrutiny for omitting family foundations from their financial disclosure reports, including former Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). They amended their disclosures, and neither was penalized.
Advisers to the Clintons said the family foundation amounted to only a fraction of their overall charitable efforts, which generate millions each year.
The charity is separate from the New York-based William J. Clinton Foundation, which has directed $10 billion in corporate money and resources toward slowing the global spread of AIDS, addressing climate change, and reducing hunger and poverty in developing countries.
The smaller family foundation lists as its address a post office box in Chappaqua, N.Y., where the Clintons live. Hillary Clinton is listed as secretary and treasurer, Bill Clinton as president and the couple's daughter, Chelsea, as a director. None takes any compensation.
The charity has been funded with money from lucrative book deals for both Clintons and from speechmaking by Bill Clinton since they left the White House in 2001. The foundation's tax filings are available on an Internet repository for IRS documents. The only time the Clintons mentioned the foundation on her ethics report was in 2002, in a footnote about their $800,000 donation that year, but it did not disclose as required her position or other information about the foundation. In subsequent years, they made no mention of it.
Between 2001 and 2005, the Clintons seeded the charity with $5.16 million of their money. The foundation's 2006 tax form is not due until later this year.
Tax records show the Clinton Family Foundation was created during Hillary Clinton's first year in the Senate, when the couple gave $800,000 to launch the organization in early December 2001. The charity distributed no funds that year. The next year, the Clintons made $170,000 in donations while adding $100,000 of their own funds.
The Clintons donated much larger amounts in recent years as legal bills from Bill Clinton's impeachment were paid off and their personal fortunes soared. At the end of 2005, the Clinton family foundation had nearly $4 million in cash assets.
Jay Carson, a spokesman for Bill Clinton, said all of the foundation's remaining money will eventually go to charities and other institutions. He said the Clintons' other charitable efforts include raising millions a year for other nonprofits and making donations of their own money. He said the Clintons helped raise nearly $11 million the past two years for other nonprofits.
"It is hard to beat the Clintons' devotion to charitable work, unless you founded Microsoft or are the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway," he said.
The retired chief of the IRS branch that oversees tax-exempt nonprofits said family-run foundations are commonly created by wealthy Americans, allowing them to earn tax breaks by donating to a charity whose future good works they can control. Such charities need only to give 5 percent of proceeds each year to maintain a tax exemption.
"There are certain tax advantages to having your own foundations and not having the money as part of your estate," said Milton Cerny. "They can take the tax deduction up front, as soon as they put the money into the foundation."
Private family foundations vary in amounts they give away each year. The Clintons have given away a quarter of their money. The family foundation of record producer David Geffen, by comparison, has been giving away most of what it takes in -- roughly $1 million a year -- leaving it with a balance of $400,000 at the end of 2005.
The Walton family, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, put $415 million in new money into its foundation in 2005. It gave $158 million to charitable causes, leaving the foundation with a $1.3 billion balance.
The Clinton foundation's donations range from $100,000 to the Asian tsunami relief fund in 2005 to causes in the former president's home state of Arkansas.
The Clintons have been generous to their alma maters, with donations going to Yale Law School, Georgetown University, Wellesley College and Oxford University, which Bill Clinton attended on a Rhodes Scholarship.
The foundation has also paid considerable attention to Arkansas, providing the bulk of the support for the Clinton Birthplace Foundation, which maintains the former president's boyhood home in Hope, Ark. They have donated $225,000 to the Little Rock Baptist church they attended, and to organizations devoted to the needs of children in the state.
One Arkansas recipient was the Diane Blair Foundation. Diane Blair is the late wife of James Blair, the businessman who helped Hillary Clinton with controversial commodities trades in the late 1970s that netted her about $100,000. There are two foundations in Diane Blair's name. One is a private family charity; the other funds a center for the study of Southern politics at the University of Arkansas.
The Clintons' tax form indicates the money went to the private charity, but James Blair said in an interview yesterday that the Clintons "miscoded" the entry. The check actually went to the university fund, he said.
"She was Hillary's closest friend," Blair said of his wife, who died in June 2000.
At least three beneficiaries were from the Middle East, where the former president worked to forge an elusive peace agreement during the 1990s. They include $50,000 to the King Hussein Foundation, named in honor of the late Jordanian king, who was a key player in Clinton peace talks; $50,000 to American Friends of Yitzhak Rabin, honoring the assassinated Israeli prime minister; and the American Friends of Peres Center, honoring former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres.
The Clintons also gave $50,000 to the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a group aimed at empowering women worldwide. Hillary Clinton is an honorary chair.
Such omissions deprive the public of the right to scrutinize their political leaders' financial dealings and identify possible conflicts of interest, the former chief of disclosure for the Federal Election Commission said.
Kent Cooper, who retired after two decades overseeing the FEC's public disclosure office, said congressional ethics committees have not enforced the ethics disclosure requirements forcefully. As a result, he said, candidates "know there is no great consequences, and so the habit has developed that people dismiss an omission as a clerical error, when in fact it is a crucial piece of the puzzle about a member's finances that is being hidden."