More than half of the Clinton Foundation’s major donors would be prevented from contributing to the charity under the self-imposed ban on corporate and foreign donors the foundation said this week it would adopt if Hillary Clinton won the White House, according to a new Washington Post analysis of foundation donations.
The findings underscore the extent to which the Clintons’ sprawling global charity has come to rely on financial support from industries and overseas interests, a point that has drawn criticism from Republicans and some liberals who have said the donations represent conflicts of interest for a potential president.
The analysis, which examined donor lists posted on the foundation’s website, found that 53 percent of the donors who have given $1 million or more to the charity are corporations or foreign citizens, groups or governments. The list includes the governments of Saudi Arabia and Australia, the British bank Barclay’s, and major U.S. companies such as Coca-Cola and ExxonMobil.
The foundation’s announcement drew skepticism Friday from the right and the left as critics wondered why the Clintons have never before cut off corporate and overseas money to their charity — and why they would wait until after the election to do so.
The restrictions would be more stringent than those put in place while Clinton was secretary of state, when the foundation was merely required to seek State Department approval to accept new donations from foreign governments — permitting the charity to accept millions of dollars from governments and wealthy interests all over the world. They would also be stricter than the policy adopted when Clinton launched her campaign that placed some limits on foreign government funding but allowed corporate and individual donations.
Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator who was a leading surrogate for Clinton’s rival in the Democratic primary race, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), said the restrictions were a good step but should be imposed immediately.
“In my opinion, and in the opinion of lots of Americans, this should have been done long ago,” she said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted Friday that the Clintons’ continued acceptance of those dollars during the presidential campaign is a “massive, ongoing conflict of interest.”
Others questioned why Clinton had now decided that the foundation should rule out donations that she apparently thought were acceptable during her tenure as the country’s top diplomat. “Is it ok to accept foreign and corporate money when Secretary of State but not when POTUS???” Donald Trump Jr., son of the Republican nominee, tweeted Thursday night.
Clinton Foundation spokesman Craig Minassian said that the limits would be imposed “to avoid perception issues while ensuring the people who depend on our programs continue to be served.”
Minassian did not directly answer questions about why the restrictions would be tighter than they were when Clinton was at State. As for why they would not be imposed until after the election, he said that the foundation did not want to presume the outcome and that taking action “before then would needlessly hurt people who are being helped by our charitable work around the world.”
Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Clinton’s campaign, said the constraints on the foundation while Clinton was secretary of state already went beyond legal requirements but the foundation submitted to “even more rigorous standards” when Clinton declared her candidacy and “is pledging to go even further if she wins.”
“At each step, the standard set by the foundation has been unprecedented, even if it may never satisfy some critics,” he said.
The announcement of the new restrictions appeared to be a response to an ongoing political headache for Hillary Clinton, who has faced months of damaging criticism of her State Department tenure amid controversies over her use of a private email server and allegations that foundation donors received special access.
Citing the release of emails showing top Clinton aides responding to requests for meetings with donors, Donald Trump has accused Clinton of creating a “pay to play” climate in her agency — a charge she has denied.
Nearly half of likely voters, 47 percent, said they were bothered a lot by the foundation’s acceptance of money from foreign countries while Clinton was secretary of state, according to a Bloomberg News poll in June. That’s similar to the 45 percent of voters who were bothered by Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.
The new policy was devised by Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton, and approved at a foundation board meeting Thursday, according to a foundation official.
As part of the changes, Bill Clinton agreed that he would step down from the board of the organization if his wife was elected and would do no more fundraising for the group. Chelsea Clinton would remain on the board for a transition period. However, her name, as well as Hillary Clinton’s, would be dropped from the charity’s title, which would revert to the Clinton Foundation from its current formal name, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
The new donation restrictions would not apply to the Boston-based Clinton Health Access Initiative, which began as part of the foundation but is now a separate organization. In a statement, the initiative said its board will meet soon to discuss its policies.
Founded by Bill Clinton in 1997, the foundation has grown into a $2 billion enterprise that funds health-care, education and environmental initiatives around the world. It has also drawn scrutiny, with critics charging that the charity offered an opportunity for corporations and foreign interests to curry favor with a secretary of state seen as a likely future occupant of the Oval Office.
If Clinton wins, imposing the new restrictions could prove awkward in some cases. For instance, a ban on foreign donations could get in the way of the foundation’s long reliance on Frank Giustra, a Canadian mining magnate who has committed more than $100 million and sits on the board of directors. In addition to direct donations to the foundation, Giustra runs a Canadian-based branch of the charity known as the Clinton-Giustra Enterprise Partnership.
If Clinton won in November, Giustra would spin the organization into “an independent entity to continue this important work, and maintain CGEP’s life-changing partnerships around the world,” he said in a statement Friday. A foundation official said the Canadian group would no longer use the Clinton name.
The announcement of the new rules is unlikely to defuse the foundation as a potent campaign issue.
Critics seized on the fact that the restrictions would go into effect only in November, if Clinton was elected, meaning donors could race to give money before the deadline — but in time to curry favor with a Democratic nominee who is leading in the polls.
The left-leaning columnist Jonathan Chait wrote on the website of New York magazine Friday that the new policy is an “inadequate response to the conflicts of interest inherent in the Clinton Foundation” and demonstrates that Clinton “has not fully grasped the severity of her reputational problem.”
Even with the restrictions, he noted, wealthy individuals would have the opportunity to use foundation donations as “chits.” “Ultimately, there is no way around this problem without closing down the Clinton Foundation altogether,” he wrote.
The foundation is not required by law to disclose its donors, but it has published those names since Clinton was nominated to be secretary of state by President Obama. The disclosure was required under an ethics agreement she negotiated with the Obama administration, as was the requirement that new foreign government donations be submitted to the State Department for vetting. If questions arose, the agreement allowed for the White House to weigh in.
Those rules allowed the foundation to accept millions of dollars while Clinton was in office from seven foreign governments that had already been giving, including nations with which the United States has had complicated relations, such as Qatar and Oman. Foundation officials also later acknowledged that it had accepted a $500,000 donation from Algeria without receiving permission from the State Department, as required by the agreement.
The policy was questioned during Clinton’s confirmation hearing by then-Sen. Richard L. Lugar (R-Ind.), who called on the foundation to bar all foreign donations, not just those from governments. “The Clinton Foundation exists as a temptation for any foreign entity or government that believes it could curry favor through a donation,” he said then.
In an interview Friday, Lugar said the new proposal demonstrated that the Clintons had learned lessons from her time as secretary and were now taking the correct steps to ensure no perception of a conflict.
Lugar, who lost a Republican primary in 2012 and has not endorsed Trump or Clinton, said the Clintons should not shutter the foundation. “I believe, as do many others, that it has done a great deal of good in helping people throughout the world,” he said.