People really like accusing Hillary Clinton of corruption. So, after her opponents finish screaming about her emails (which, let’s be honest: she just straight up lied to the FBI about) or Benghazi (which is a non-story), they will probably bring up donations to The Clinton Foundation. Cary Fiorina (remember her?), for example, likes to claim that the Clinton Foundation only spends 10% of its budget on charity, the New York Post describes the foundation as “a money sucking, pay-to-play operation,” and Rudy Giuliani refers to it as a “racketeering enterprise.” Trump himself has also demanded that the Clinton Foundation return money donated by countries like Saudi Arabia because they “fund hate” (though if the Clinton Foundation is returning money donated by those who promote hate, they should probably start with the $100,000 Trump has donated over the years). So, is there any truth to these claims? Let’s take a look.
The first thing to understand is that it’s not just far-right commentators who have taken issue with the Clinton Foundation. Charity Navigator, a non-profit watchdog organization, has refused to classify the Clinton Foundation because its business model is so atypical, The Wall Street Journal (and other organizations) has been critical of the foundation’s foreign investments, and the IRS is investigating it for “impropriety.”
On top of these accusations, the truth is that the Clinton Foundation receives an awful lot of money from sketchy sources; particularly foreign governments. Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Algeria have all made sizable donations to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary was serving as Secretary of State (though she was not working for the Clinton Foundation during this time). Additionally, the Clinton Foundation is not required to publicly reveal their donor’s identities, so it can be very hard to determine exactly who has contributed. The Donald has stated that China and Russia are two of the Foundation’s largest donors, but (surprise) has provided no evidence to back this claim up. It is also worth mentioning that the Clinton Foundation also regularly receives donations from countries that have very little reason to try and buy favors from Hillary, like Norway and Australia.
Additionally, it should be mentioned that the majority of the money donated to the Clinton Foundation does not come from foreign governments. The Washington Post reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is Clinton Foundation’s biggest donor, followed by the Radcliff Foundation and Fred Eychner (a Chicago-based media magnate). Other major donors include The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, UNITAID and the National Lottery of the Netherlands. So, while some of the Clinton Foundation’s money comes from sketchy sources, the majority of it comes from much more reputable pocketbooks.
Ok, so the Clinton Foundation receives a lot of money every year (almost $150 million in 2013), some of which definitely comes from less-than-reputable sources. The next question, then, is what do they do with this money? The first thing to clear up is probably that none of the money is given as a salary to Hillary, Bill or Chelsea Clinton. With that said, money donated is used for transportation costs to fly the Clintons around on foundation business, and almost all other Clinton Foundation employees do draw salaries. In 2013, the Clinton Foundation reported spending about $30 million on salaries and benefits for its employees and $8.5 million on travel (that’s about 25% of their total budget).
Where, then, does the remaining 75% of the Clinton Foundation’s budget go? Carly Fiorina will tell you that the Clinton Foundation only spends about $9 million on aid programs. While this number is technically true, it only included programs not run by or associated with the Clinton Foundation itself, essentially meaning that the Clinton Foundation donated $9 million to other charities. The vast majority of the remaining money was spent on projects run by The Clinton Foundation itself, including relief in Haiti, investments in green infrastructure and forest rehabilitation and development support. It was actions like these that earned The Clinton Foundation an ‘A’ from Charity Watch, the US’s largest watchdog of non-profit organizations.
The Clinton Foundation does a lot of good. I would argue that, given the resources at its disposal, it could be doing much more than it currently is. The Foundation was able to raise millions of dollars for Haiti after the tragic earthquake in 2010, but wasted far too much of that money on failed projects or support for wealthy areas. The Clintons were major players Haiti’s relief operation, which was (by almost all accounts) handled very poorly. Additionally, the Foundation has made a habit of ‘losing’ potentially damning evidence, and a donation from Algeria in 2010 that violated federal law managed to “slip through the cracks” of the Clinton Foundation, who accepted the donation.
So, Hillary and Bill claim that their foundation is a charity that does lots of good around the world, Trump and The Right claim that it’s a thinly veiled bribery ring designed to buy favors from Hillary. The truth seems to fall somewhere in the middle. The Clinton Foundation is far from the evil organization Trump wants you to believe it is, but it’s impossible to ignore the signs of corruption and mismanagement popping up. In fact, if Trump, Fiorina and The Right would dial in their criticisms and support their statements with facts they could probably help the public address some of the problems with this charity. Instead, they try and gain political points by badmouthing an organization that genuinely does a lot of good around the world, while simultaneously exaggerating their complaints so much that it can be difficult to see the grains of truth in them. They have good reason to be critical of this organization and the people who run it, but instead, they scream nonsense and allow the actual corruption to go unchecked. Don’t you just love American politics?