WASHNGTON – Under Hillary Clinton’s leadership, the State Department was run like a mob-run shakedown operation, with more than half the visitors she met with from outside government paying money to the Clinton Family Foundation for the privilege, according to an Associated Press investigation of her calendars.
“It’s an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president,” reported the largest news-gathering organization in the world.
At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs, the news agency reported Tuesday.
Combined the 85 “donors” contributed as much as $156 million – with 40 donating more than $100,000 and 20 giving more than $1 million, according to the stunning report.
AP reports donors who were granted time with Clinton included:
- an internationally known economist who asked for her help as the Bangladesh government pressured him to resign from a nonprofit bank he ran;
- a Wall Street executive who sought Clinton’s help with a visa problem;
- Estee Lauder executives who were listed as meeting with Clinton while her department worked with the firm’s corporate charity to counter gender-based violence in South Africa.
The AP report, which represents the first systematic effort to calculate the scope of the intersecting interests of the Clinton Foundation donors and people who met personally with the secretary of state or spoke on the phone, said “the frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and fuels perceptions that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Clinton. Her calendars and emails released as recently as this week describe scores of contacts she and her top aides had with foundation donors.”
The 154 did not include U.S. federal employees or foreign government representatives.
But, Clinton met with representatives of at least 16 foreign governments that donated as much as $170 million to the Clinton charity, but they were not included in AP’s calculations because such meetings would presumably have been part of her diplomatic duties.
The Clinton Foundation’s finances are so messy that the nation’s most influential charity watchdog put it on its “watch list” of problematic nonprofits last month.
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Meanwhile, an investigation of the Clinton Foundation’s $140 million in grants and pledges in the year 2013 found that only $9 million went to direct aid to charities. The bulk of its revenues went to administration, travel, and salaries and bonuses, with the fattest payouts going to family and friends.
On its 2013 tax forms, the most recent available, the foundation claimed it spent $30 million on payroll and employee benefits; $8.7 million in rent and office expenses; $9.2 million on “conferences, conventions and meetings”; $8 million on fundraising; and nearly $8.5 million on travel. None of the Clintons is on the payroll, but they do enjoy first-class flights paid for by the foundation.
In all, the group reported $84.6 million in “functional expenses” on its 2013 tax return and had more than $64 million left over – money the organization has said represents pledges rather than actual cash on hand.
Some of the tens of millions in administrative costs finance more than 2,000 employees, including aid workers and health professionals around the world. But that’s still far below the 75 percent rate of spending that nonprofit experts say a real charity should spend on its mission.
Charity Navigator put the foundation on its “watch list,” which warns potential donors about investing in problematic charities. The 23 charities on the list include the Rev. Al Sharpton’s troubled National Action Network, which is cited for failing to pay payroll taxes for several years.
In July 2013, Eric Braverman, a friend of Chelsea Clinton from when they both worked at McKinsey & Co., took over as chief executive officer of the Clinton Foundation. He took home nearly $275,000 in salary, benefits and a housing allowance from the nonprofit for just five months’ work in 2013, tax filings show. Less than a year later, his salary increased to $395,000, according to a report in Politico.
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Braverman abruptly left the foundation in 2014, after a falling-out with the old Clinton guard over reforms he wanted to impose at the charity, Politico reported. Donna Shalala, a former secretary of health and human services under President Clinton, was hired to replace Braverman.
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The group also failed to disclose millions of dollars it received in foreign donations from 2010 to 2012 and hurriedly refiled five years’ worth of tax returns after reporters raised questions about the discrepancies in its filings.
Last week, the Clinton Foundation moved to head off ethics concerns about future donations by announcing changes planned if Clinton is elected. On Monday, Bill Clinton said in a statement that if his wife were to win, he would step down from the foundation’s board and stop all fundraising for it. The foundation would also accept donations only from U.S. citizens and what it described as independent philanthropies, while no longer taking “gifts” from foreign groups, U.S. companies or corporate charities. Clinton said the foundation would no longer hold annual meetings of its international aid program, the Clinton Global Initiative, and it would spin off its foreign-based programs to other charities.
Those planned changes would not affect more than 6,000 donors who have already provided the Clinton charity with more than $2 billion in funding since its creation in 2000.
Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon did not respond to the AP’s questions about Clinton transition plans regarding ethics, but said in a statement Tuesday the standard set by the Clinton Foundation’s ethics restrictions was “unprecedented, even if it may never satisfy some critics.”
GOP vice presidential candidate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said the AP analysis was evidence of “pay-to-play” politics at Clinton’s State Department. He called for the foundation to be shut down and for an independent prosecutor to be appointed to investigate.
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Clinton’s opponent in the race for the presidency, Donald Trump, has also called for an independent prosecutor to investigate.
The AP had to sue the State Department to get the records it used for its investigation.
In another case, Clinton was host at a September 2009 breakfast meeting at the New York Stock Exchange that listed Blackstone Group chairman Stephen Schwarzman as one of the attendees. Schwarzman’s firm is a major Clinton Foundation donor, but he personally donates heavily to GOP candidates and causes. One day after the breakfast, according to Clinton emails, the State Department was working on a visa issue at Schwarzman’s request. In December that same year, Schwarzman’s wife, Christine, sat at Clinton’s table during the Kennedy Center Honors. Clinton also introduced Schwarzman, then chairman of the Kennedy Center, before he spoke.
Blackstone donated between $250,000 and $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation. Eight Blackstone executives also gave between $375,000 and $800,000 to the foundation. And Blackstone’s charitable arm has pledged millions of dollars in commitments to three Clinton Global aid projects ranging from the U.S. to the Mideast. Blackstone officials did not make Schwarzman available for comment.