Does anyone remember the Clinton Cash scandal? Thursday’s Wall Street Journal report about the way the Clinton Global Initiative set up a deal that benefitted a company with ties to the former First Family should ring a bell. A year ago, the political world was focused on a wide-ranging scandal involving conflicts of interest, possible corruption, and sweetheart deal involving the former president and secretary of state. The publication of Peter Schweizer’s Clinton Cash not only caused a furor because of the serious questions it raised about the Clinton Global Initiative and the private foundation that is run now by Bill and Chelsea Clinton, but also because it encouraged the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Journal to conduct their own investigations. Those efforts uncovered even more questionable conduct about the doings of Hillary Clinton, who was then and still is today the likely presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.
But then, as is often the case in our 24/7 news cycle world, the press got diverted. Those on the Clinton beat understandably began to devote more attention to the story about her private email server. The discussion about the deleted emails and the slow-motion drip, drip, drip of evidence that she had sent communications involving classified and even top secret information on an unprotected system had the effect of making many of us forget why it was that she may have had something to hide in all of those messages.
But more than anything else, the start of the presidential race had the effect of pushing the Clinton Cash story to the back burner. The three-ring circus that was the Republican presidential race made it difficult for anyone in media to turn their attention away from Donald Trump or from the baffled reactions of his opponents as he blustered, slandered, and lied his way into the hearts of GOP voters. Though Clinton found herself in an unexpectedly tough Democratic race of her own with Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist’s unwillingness to talk about Clinton’s ethical issues seemed to validate her campaign’s ongoing effort to convince the world that any questions about the foundation or the emails was part of the “vast, right-wing conspiracy” that she always blames for all of her self-inflicted troubles.
The general election campaign is about to begin with Democrats seeking to make the campaign a referendum on Trump’s character issues, policy ignorance, flip-flops, and record of bizarre and abusive statements. But their problem remains the same as it was a year ago: a presumptive nominee with serious flaws and problems of her own.
That’s why today’s story is a bigger problem for the Clintons than she, her apologists, or Democrats in general understand.
In and of itself, this latest item in the list of Clinton scandals may not seem like much. It involves a $2 million — including an $812,000 Energy Department grant — for insulating homes that found its way into the pockets of a company owned by friends of the Clintons as a result of their family foundation’s influence and the personal intervention of the former president. That doesn’t sound like much when put in the context of trillion dollar government expenditures or even the billions raised by the Clinton foundation. But nevertheless, it’s a problem.
The first reason is that on the face of it, the manner in which the Clintons managed to divert money to their cronies seems to be illegal. As the Journal notes:
Under federal law, tax-exempt charitable organizations aren’t supposed to act in anyone’s private interest but instead in the public interest, on broad issues such as education or poverty.
“The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests,” the Internal Revenue Service says on its website.
In this case, it appears the Clintons were not strictly following the law. Their efforts directly aided a company — Engineer Pioneer Solutions — that was owned by a group of people with various ties to the Clintons and the Democratic Party.
Is this enough to merit government action? Perhaps but surely not in an Obama administration that has slow-walked the email investigation and which has already appeared to ignore the leads that Schweizer’s book and other press investigations into conflicts of interest involving the Clinton family foundation and the State Department when Hillary was running it. If the feds haven’t done anything about the State Department granting approval for the sale of a rare and strategic uranium mine to a foreign company owned by a massive contributor to the Clintons, they aren’t going to trouble themselves about a Nebraska insulation company profiting from federal and charitable initiatives.
But the real problem here is not so much the details, damning as they may be. This story illustrates also how the Clinton charitable empire works and it’s not a pretty picture.
Though the Clintons have raised many billions from wealthy contributors as well as foreign governments and proclaim themselves the avatars of philanthropies, very little of that money finds its way into the hands of the needy. The Clinton Global Initiative and the family foundation that runs it is a middleman in the business of charity. It neither feeds the hungry nor clothes the poor. It digs no wells to provide clean water for the thirsty or helps others find ways to grow or otherwise acquire food or better housing. What it does is to match up companies to causes and donors.
That can be presented as a way of promoting efficiency and helping to get the charitable dollars to the people and the places where it can do the most good. But in practice, it has meant something else. For all of the vast sums the Clintons have collected from celebrities, foreign despots and other wealthy people (including the enormous sums paid to Bill and Hillary for speaking appearances), all this money really does is to pay for conferences and other shindigs where such people can get their pictures taken with the Clintons and/or bask in the charm of the 42nd president. Those who give them money have a curious way of having good things happen to them whether in the form of contracts, philanthropic windfalls or other government favors as in the case of that uranium mine.
While in some indirect fashion some good may be done as a result of all these machinations, there are only three people that we know who have really benefited from this massive philanthropic endeavor and their names are Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea. The Clintons, who the former First Lady memorably described as just a family of down-on-their-luck broke former Arkansans when they left the White House, have lived high on the proverbial hog for more than a decade as a result of their supposedly good deeds. With so little money going to actual charity, they’ve had plenty left over for the creature comforts associated with running such a big company. In effect, their foundation and initiative is nothing more than a thinly disguised political slush fund that has made them three very wealthy people.
With Clinton less than six months away from a date with the voters that could make her the 45th president, more scrutiny of their charitable scam is necessary. Trump would do well to spend less time trolling the Clintons about Bill’s affairs and other predatory behavior with women and more trying to point the press toward the Clinton’s true ethical Achilles Heal. There’s a lot we still have yet to know about what they’ve been up to and how it interconnected with Hillary’s State Department. Whatever the press thinks about Trump and the skeletons that may be lurking in his closets, after a year of relative silence about this topic, it’s time for the media to start doing its job with regard to the Clintons and their personal philanthropic ATM.