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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Hillary Clinton, the Clinton Foundation and Wall Street

A second stream of the critique has been revelations of the Clinton Foundation’s relationships with a number of banks that have run afoul of U.S. government regulators. Alexandra Jaffe of CNN reported that the Clinton Foundation and its Clinton Global Initiative arm had struck partnership arrangements with a number of banks while these banks were fending off investigations or paying substantial fines. Jaffe listed a variety of “strategic partners” of CGI including Barclays (which had to pay $300m in fines for breaking sanctions against Iran, Cuba, and the Sudan, and another $450m for global interest rate rigging), Deutsche Bank (under investigation for potential Iran sanctions violations), HSBC (which paid $1.92b because it allowed drug cartels to launder money and because it did transactions for customers in Iran, Libya, Cuba, and the Sudan), and Goldman Sachs (which paid a $1.2b fine for mortgage lending infractions).
Our review of the Clinton Foundation’s listed donors reveals a number of big banks making sizable donations:
  • Between $1m and $5m: Citi Foundation, Barclay’s Capital, Goldman Sachs, Standard Chartered
  • $500,000-$1m: Bank of America Foundation, more Barclay’s, Citigroup, HSBC Holdings, UBS Wealth Management
  • $250,000-$500,000: Banco Santander Brasil, Deutsche Bank AG, Deutsche Bank Americas, Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Global Impact Funding Trust
The problem for Hillary Clinton with the bank contributions, notwithstanding the banks’ regulatory problems, is that she is seen in many political circles as close to Wall Street. A spate of donations from big banks and big corporations to the foundation could add to the perception, particularly within her own populist-leaning Democratic Party, that Hillary Clinton’s DNA isn’t all that populist. Among the other corporate donors to the Clinton Foundation are these:
  • $5m-$10m: Coca-Cola,
  • $1m-$5m: Anheuser-Busch, Duke Energy, ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard, Humana, Microsoft, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Dow Chemical, Boeing, the Walmart Foundation (as well as the Walton Family Foundation), Toyota,
  • $500,000-$1m: Alibaba Group, Chevron, General Electric, Google, Monsanto, News Corporation (Murdoch), Allstate, Harrah’s,
  • $250,000-$500,000: AIG, Freeport McMoRan, McDonald’s, Walmart
That is a hefty list of companies that might be interested in finding a friendly ear in the White House in 2017. Some of them, such as ExxonMobil, are seen by progressive activists as inimical to concerns about the impact of fossil fuels on global warming. Others, like McDonald’s and Walmart, are frequently described by activists as exemplars of low wage, non-union shops. To the Clinton Foundation, the bank and corporate donors are seen as having the scale as funders and partners “to make the biggest impact,” as one foundation defender explained. The foundation believes that the track records of banks and corporations having been investigated and penalized by U.S. government regulators shouldn’t disqualify them from making a positive contribution to the foundation’s priorities.
A foundation “talking points” email that made its way to press outlets instructed Clinton defenders to highlight the foundation’s “ground-breaking, life-changing” global impact, that it is a false choice to suggest that individuals and corporations can’t separate their political priorities from their philanthropic giving, and that its voluntary transparency is a significant positive difference about the Clinton Foundation. The emphasis is that the foundation is simply that, an entirely philanthropic endeavor. Her former campaign chair, now Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe, added, “If your criticism…is that she raised too much money for her charity to help people around the globe, OK, I’ll take that.” But that statement, especially given that McAuliffe is a former board member of the foundation, puts Hillary Clinton back into the middle of the foundation’s fundraising strategies when she was serving full time as Secretary of State.
Money, even in philanthropy, is not a purely philanthropic endeavor. It buys access, which goes both ways. For example, the Foundation chose not long ago to invest its assets through Summit Rock Advisers, where one of Chelsea Clinton’s best friends is a managing director. That person’s husband ended up working for the hedge fund created by Chelsea’s husband, Marc Mezvinsky.
In the wake of the foreign funding news, it appears that former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, recently the president of the University of Miami, has been tapped to be the next CEO of the Clinton Foundation. Having weathered devastating scandals of improper contributions to the University of Miami sports teams, Shalala may be what is needed to clean up the apparent tone-deafness of the Clinton Foundation fundraising. She will be taking the place of Eric Braverman, the CEO who left (or perhaps was eased out of) the Clinton Foundation recently. Ironically, Braverman had been recruited, and may have been ousted, partly for his reported agenda of focusing on the foundation’s processes for handling whistleblower complaints,
Truth be told, the messy charity involvements of John McCain, Rick Santorum, and even Newt Gingrich never figured into their presidential campaigns (DeLay was never going to be a presidential candidate and Mitt Romney’s Mormon-focused foundation draws on family money). Clinton spokespersons and surrogates are dismissing the foundation questions with “is this all they got?” comments about her potential opponents, but it may not be that easy. Unlike the small but compromised fundraising of these other politicians’ charities, the Clinton Foundation is big, with a quarter-billion in assets, a track record of having raised $2 billion, and influence with power brokers around the world. It is where difference of size really is difference of kind when it comes to the potential significance of the Clinton Foundation questions. This time around, in the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton could find her family’s foundation, increasingly dependent on outside contributions from big corporations and foreign governments, to be a campaign albatross.

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