Boeing chief executive W. James McNearney faced pointed questions during the company's annual shareholder's meeting Monday about Boeing's decision to make a charitable donation to the Clinton Foundation in the same year that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had advocated on behalf of the company's sales in Russia.
The question came from David Almasi, a Boeing shareholder and a representative of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank whose members attend shareholder meetings to challenge corporate executives.
The question was based on reporting that was published in The Washington Post earlier this month, and it gave an indication of the kinds of challenges that companies that have become close to Clinton could face from conservative shareholders as the former secretary of state weighs a run for president. Dozens of major corporations have made charitable donations to the Clinton Foundation in recent years.
"Assuming that building schools in Haiti was a key goal of this Company's philanthropic programs in 2010, why was it so important to support this work specifically through the Clinton Foundation and not one of the many other reputable, independent charities then working in Haiti?" Almasi said he asked. He called the Boeing donation a "clear conflict of interest" that seemed "reckless and unnecessary."
McNearney's response was similar to that provided by a Boeing spokesman for the original story in The Post. According to notes taken at the meeting by Almasi, Boeing's chief executive said he was "confident" Clinton "would have advocated for Caterpillar's tractors or GE's turbines with equal fervor ... with or without these few donations."
"I appreciate the secretary's support overseas," McNearney said, according to Almasi, and added that the "commercial advocacy by people that lead our country is highly appreciated by those of us toiling in the vineyards." (According to Almasi's notes, McNearney called an implication by Almasi that the donation might have been legally questionable "beyond the pale.")
Boeing contributed $900,000 to the Clinton family foundation to rebuild schools in Haiti in 2010, just months after Clinton had traveled to Russia, where she made what she called a "shameless pitch" for a state-owned company to buy Boeing passenger jets.
A month after her Russia trip, Clinton also announced that Boeing had doubled its donation to help build the U.S. pavilion at the world's fair in Shanghai from $1 million to $2 million. The donation came after Clinton made personal pleas to ensure U.S. participation at the fair and despite earlier State Department ethics guidance that had capped Boeing's participation at the event.
Boeing won the $3.7 billion Russian contract in June 2010.
A Boeing spokesman did not immediately respond to questions about the exchange Monday between McNearney and Almasi, including a request to confirm the accuracy of the account provided by the conservative group.
Amy Ridenour, chairman of the organization, said McNearney's response was inadequate and "should concern shareholders."
"He ducked the kernel of our question, which is why Boeing would make a donation to the Clinton Foundation at a time of such a conflict of interest," she said in a statement.