The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Foreign donations to foundation raise major ethical questions for Hillary Clinton

In an extraordinary report that has not yet been fully digested, the Wall Street Journal tells us that the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation has received millions from foreign governments including Qatar, a prominent backer of Hamas:

The Clinton Foundation has dropped its self-imposed ban on collecting funds from foreign governments and is winning contributions at an accelerating rate, raising ethical questions as Hillary Clinton ramps up her expected bid for the presidency.
Recent donors include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Australia, Germany and a Canadian government agency promoting the Keystone XL pipeline. . . .
United Arab Emirates, a first-time donor, gave between $1 million and $5 million in 2014, and the German government—which also hadn’t previously given—contributed between $100,000 and $250,000.
A previous donor, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has given between $10 million and $25 million since the foundation was created in 1999. Part of that came in 2014, although the database doesn’t specify how much.
The Australian government has given between $5 million and $10 million, at least part of which came in 2014. It also gave in 2013, when its donations fell in the same range.
Qatar’s government committee preparing for the 2022 soccer World Cup gave between $250,000 and $500,000 in 2014. Qatar’s government had previously donated between $1 million and $5 million.
Oman, which had made a donation previously, gave an undisclosed amount in 2014. Over time, Oman has given the foundation between $1 million and $5 million. Prior to last year, its donations fell in the same range.

The foundation of course provides luxury travel for Hillary Clinton and her spouse, a high-visibility platform and access to mega-donors. She is beholden in a meaningful sense to its donors. No presidential candidate can justify a conflict of interest of this magnitude; it is not merely the appearance of conflict but actual conflict of interest.

If former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell (R) might go to jail for receiving lavish gifts for a donor for whom he made a few phone calls, what would be the remedy if, once in office, Hillary Clinton extended her office not only to make calls but also to approve policy and financial arrangements worth billions back to these countries? How will the American people ever be satisfied we are getting her undivided loyalty? No matter how much she protests, her judgment would be questioned as influenced by gratitude toward the foundation’s wealthy patrons. And, of course, a president cannot recuse himself or herself from dealings, so there is no practical way to avoid the conflict.

It is bad enough when Clinton takes gobs of money in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, oil and chemical companies, and other titans of industry — although that, too, raises the potential for conflicts of interest. But a foreign government should never have any claim on the loyalty of a U.S. president, which is why foreign donations directly to a campaign are illegal. We cannot give her a pass simply because her entity is a “foundation,” not a PAC or campaign entity.

There is no conceivable way, I would suggest, that the foundation can keep the foreign monies if she wants to run for president. It is unseemly in the extreme and raises potential for liability down the road. But even if she were now to give all the money back, she has had use of the money in the meantime (the time value of money is something, after all). More important, her egregious judgment and untrammeled greed raise real questions about her priorities and ethics. Republicans should and will, I predict, pummel her with this. If the MSM is not entirely in her pocket, they will as well. Imagine if Jeb Bush’s education foundation took millions from Saudi Arabia. Surely there would be cries for him to withdraw from presidential pre-campaigning.

The irony here is that it is not the “Israel lobby” that buys influence. It is Arab states that lavishly fund universities and think tanks. And now they are buying a president. I await with baited breath the outrage from Tom Friedman and the other Israel-bashers who accuse lawmakers of being bought and paid for by Israel. Or do the rules just apply to Israel?

Hillary, give the money back. Or don’t run. You can’t keep the money and run.