The Clinton Foundation has become a serious headache for Hillary Clinton, and she has no one to blame but herself.
It’s too bad, really. The foundation has done admirable work around the globe. But in typical Clinton fashion, Bill and Hillary have played fast and loose with their ethical behavior regarding the organization.
When Bill Clinton left office in 2001, he kept busy with the foundation, which delivers aid worldwide on issues ranging from AIDS prevention and treatment to economic development to women’s rights. Bill, Hillary and daughter Chelsea all served in leadership roles, though Hillary not until after her time as secretary of state.
The foundation has been a great success, raising hundreds of millions of dollars and changing lives.
Yet whenever money and politics mix, potential conflicts arise. That goes double for mostly unregulated donations to a private foundation. Donors, both foreign and domestic, made huge contributions to the Clinton Foundation, and many of them wanted something in return.
The Clintons insist that while Hillary was secretary of state there was no special treatment and no overlap between her duties as part of the Obama administration and the foundation. A slowly emerging paper trail raises serious doubts about that narrative.
Emails from Clinton’s private server show that her staff was in frequent contact with the foundation and fielded requests for favors. To their credit, so far no conclusive evidence of their granting those favors has emerged.
Still, some donors didn’t want favors, only meetings with Clinton or other senior diplomats, and they tended to get them. Recently released records show that the majority of meetings Clinton had with people from outside government were with people who had donated to the foundation.
Even if she did play favorites with donors, that’s not illegal. However, the sheen of pay-to-play does not belong at any level of government, let alone at the highest.
Clinton’s fans dismiss the charges as so much partisanship, but even the most partisan attacks are sometimes grounded in truth. That Clinton’s default response is avoiding news conferences at which she would have to answer questions while she carefully parses every statement in the worst lawyerly way. All of that hardly helps her credibility.
Donald Trump, Clinton’s Republican opponent, has pounced, trumpeting each drip of evidence. It’s hard to take all of his outrage seriously, though, when he himself gave $100,000 to the foundation.
A couple with eyes on returning to the White House easily could have avoided this controversy. The Clintons could have erected high walls between Hillary and the foundation while she was in the Senate, while she was secretary of state and now while she aspires to be president.
Bill belatedly has pledged to resign from the foundation’s leadership if Hillary Clinton is elected. He should do it now, and so should Chelsea.
Likewise, the foundation should stop accepting foreign donations immediately, not wait until if Hillary Clinton is elected, as has been announced. Wealthy foreigners could buy a lot of good will with the Clintons between now and Election Day.
Some Democrats suggest drastic measures. Wisconsin Senate candidate Russ Feingold said, “If (the foundation) would in any way harm the credibility of the Clinton administration, I don’t think it’s worth having it because the credibility and accountability of the president has to be first.”
That goes too far. For all of its political headaches, the foundation does tremendous good and can continue to do so, just not with Clintons at the helm. An independent board can carry on the mission without the appearance of selling access to a presidential candidate.