One of the mantras one must invoke when discussing the Clinton Cash controversy is to say that whatever one might think of the pay-to-play aspects of the former first family’s charitable endeavors, the Clinton Foundation does a lot of good work around the world. But now that more of the press is finally asking tough questions about the Clintons’ activities, it appears that their charity may not pass the basic question donors ask of any philanthropy: how much of the money raised is actually spent on the causes you are supposed to be aiding? Though the foundation has claimed that 88 percent of its expenditures are spent on good deeds, their own tax filings reveal that the real number is about ten percent. But far from being an unrelated, albeit embarrassing, sidebar to the allegations about influence peddling, this data is a reminder that the main point of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation is to support its namesakes in a lavish fashion and to allow wealthy donors access to them.
Sean Davis highlighted the discrepancy between the 88 percent figure and the reality of the Clinton Foundation spending ten percent on charity in a recent Federalist article. He followed up with another, skewering a claim by the left-wing Punditfact site that this claim was “mostly false.” As he wrote, the only way to come to such a conclusion was to simply ignore facts, including, most importantly, the filings of the Clinton Foundation that made it clear that it spent very little of its money on good deeds. But Punditfact says we should ignore these basic facts because of “the unusual business model” of the foundation which causes it to spend the lion’s share of the vast sums raised on its behalf on conferences, travel, and staffing.
The two largest items on its list of charitable expenditures are support for the Clinton Presidential Library and paying for the Clinton Global Initiative.
The Library is, like those edifices built to house the papers and glorify the memory of other presidents, a not-altogether-worthless endeavor. But it is a monument to the vanity and the legacy of the Clintons, not the sort of “good work” helping the impoverished of the Third World, as well as the women and the girls, Hillary Clinton is always telling us she’s out to save. It may be a non-profit institution but it is not a charity.
The Clinton Global Initiative is also not a charity. According to the New York Times, it’s a “glitzy annual gathering of chief executives, heads of state and celebrities.” Those who attend it may do charitable work. But their main purpose in attending is to see and be seen talking about being charitable. The same can be said of the event itself.
The foundation’s “business model” is that rather than raise money to give to those helping the poor on the ground, its alleged charitable acts are done by those on its payroll. Fair enough. But the controversy here is that the foundation and its liberal apologists want us to think that when the Clintons and their staff scurry around the world talking about helping the poor that amounts to charity.
This is not a made-up argument about how to characterize expenditures. The Clintons don’t feed the hungry or clothe the poor. They are conveners of famous and smart people who supposedly brainstorm about how to do those things. They call this “life-changing” work and no doubt it does some good. But the only ones whose lives we can be certain have been “changed” are the Clintons, their cronies, and their staff. Most of the hundreds of millions of dollars raised by the foundation yearly is spent on salaries, travel, offices, and other perks. The Clinton Foundation is the ultimate “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” reality show cloaked in a veneer of good intentions and charitable rhetoric. But it is not much of a charity.
What makes this relevant to the Clinton Cash allegations is that most of the money spent by the foundation is geared toward providing access for the donors to the Clintons via the annual celebrity conference and events at the Library. The business model here is all about the show of charity and, as our Abe Greenwald wrote on Monday, primarily interested in lauding a “class of global VIP celebrating its good works.” That doesn’t help many poor people, but it did aid the Clintons in their effort to attract wealthy, self-interested donors who preferred to give to a foundation that could advance their personal political and economic agendas rather than aid the poor.
Technically speaking this isn’t a scam, since the Clintons’ donors know exactly what they are getting. Indeed, many of them may well have gotten their money’s worth of influence by giving money to the ex-president and a sitting secretary of state and would-be president. If so, that is a scandal and one that ought to disqualify Hillary Clinton for consideration for the presidency.
But though it may not be illegal, it is not quite the noble cause to which we’re all supposed to pay homage. What’s more, the “mistakes” the foundation has made in its filings are leading to reasonable suspicions that we have just started to scratch the surface of its questionable dealings. Those liberals that are dedicating themselves to rationalizing and apologizing for the foundation may find that they have taken on a task that is in the process of becoming a full-time and increasingly impossible job.