Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hillary Clinton's new baggage for 2016 -- Feb. 19, 2015 column


Hillary Clinton will bring baggage to the 2016 campaign that she didn’t have in 2008 and that Bill Clinton couldn’t have imagined in 1992.

It’s the price of success.  The Clinton Foundation is again raising big money from foreign governments for its global charitable programs.

The foundation has received large contributions from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the Canadian agency that is promoting the Keystone XL pipeline, and other foreign entities, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and other news organizations reported.

In all, the foundation received nearly $2 billion in donations and pledges from foreign and domestic contributors between its launch in 2001 to the end of 2013, said the Post, which reported that of donors who gave more than $1 million, a third are based outside the United States, and of those who gave more than $5 million, more than half are foreigners.

At least $48 million came from overseas governments, according to the Journal’s tally.  

The donations support global projects tackling environmental, health and economic development problems, and they appear to be perfectly legal. While it is unlawful for foreign nationals to give to U.S. political campaigns, Clinton is not a candidate.

But the contributions raise questions about a possible president’s ties to foreign interests, and Clinton’s foes will make sure no one forgets.

When Clinton became secretary of state in 2009, the foundation suspended fundraising from foreign governments at the Obama administration’s request. It was thought inappropriate for Bill Clinton to be raising money from other countries while his wife was the president’s top adviser on foreign affairs.    

When she left the State Department in 2013 and joined the foundation -- now called the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation – it resumed overseas fundraising.

“Now that she is gearing up to run for president, the same potential exists for foreign governments to curry favor with her as a potential president of the United States,” ethicist Kirk Hanson of Santa Clara University in California, told the Journal, which discovered the donations during a search of the foundation’s online database. 

Hanson and others urged the foundation to reinstate the ban on foreign funds. It should do so immediately to avoid the appearance of conflicts-of-interest.

The Post reported Thursday: “Foreign donors and countries that are likely to have interests before a potential Clinton administration – and yet are ineligible to give to U.S. political campaigns – have affirmed their support for the family’s work through the charitable giving.”

As Republicans pounced, calling for the foundation to return foreign funds, the foundation defended its “strong donor integrity and transparency practices that go above and beyond what is required of U.S. charities and well beyond the practices of most peer organizations.”

The news invites a closer look at Clinton, who’s widely regarded as the Democratic frontrunner if and when she enters the 2016 race. On one hand, the historical appeal of a first woman president remains strong, and Clinton has burnished her credentials as senator and secretary of state. Fans can argue that the family foundation’s fundraising success shouldn’t be held against her.

Many Democrats and even some Republicans remember fondly her husband’s presidency with its booming economy and budget surpluses. (Never mind that messy impeachment business.)

But hold on, Rip Van Winkle.  Hillary is not Bill. Heck, Bill isn’t even Bill. Critics will say the Clintons are as inside as insiders get. Hillary enjoys strong support, personal and financial, but she is s cozy with Wall Street. Her six-figure speaking fees from financial firms raise eyebrows. She is the Democrats’ future?

Yes, for now, anyway. Half of those surveyed this month said Hillary Clinton represents the future, the highest of seven potential presidential candidates. Nearly three in four Democrats and independents who lean Democratic thought so. Both Republican Jeb Bush and Democrat Joe Biden were seen as representing the past by nearly two-thirds of people surveyed in the CNN/ORC poll.

This matters because as Bill Clinton, who cast himself as a “New Democrat” in the 1990s, says, Americans are always about the future.

We may be about to see if a Clinton with new baggage can be the future in the 21st Century.

©2015 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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