QuickTake Q&A: Clinton Foundation Becomes Target for Republicans

Hillary and Bill Clinton wave to supporters during a primary night event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the Brooklyn borough of New York, on June 7, 2016.

Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg

The foundation that Bill Clinton started after leaving the White House catalogs the progress it has made around the globe in health care, climate change, economic development and opportunities for women and girls. Donald Trump is the latest big-name Republican to paint the foundation in far less noble terms: as a vehicle by which Clinton and his wife, Hillary -- who happens to be Trump’s opponent in the presidential campaign -- receive and disseminate billions of dollars in exchange for access and favors. "The Clintons have turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves," Trump alleges. Bill Clinton says the foundation will stop accepting foreign and corporate money, and make other changes, if his wife wins in November.

1. How did we get here?

The Clinton Foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charity that was founded in 1998 to raise money for Bill Clinton’s presidential library. It morphed into a sprawling charitable endeavor that has raised an estimated $2 billion since 2002 and convenes the rich and powerful each year for the Clinton Global Initiative. Since it takes money from foreign governments and from people hoping to do business with foreign governments -- and has been run by a former president while his wife was a U.S. senator, U.S. secretary of state and a presidential candidate herself -- the foundation is vulnerable to charges of conflict of interest.

2. Who’s given to the foundation?

According to the foundation website, donors over the years include film director Steven Spielberg, race-car driver Michael Schumacher, TV newsman George Stephanopoulos, the sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Also, Trump.

3. What might the foundation have done wrong?

The foundation has been criticized for:

  • accepting large donations from governments and corporations with business before the State Department while Hillary Clinton was secretary, including more than $10 million from Saudi Arabia. A recent Trump fundraising e-mail made reference to "donations from terrorist nations to the Clinton Foundation."
  • not fully disclosing its donors, despite pledging to do so.
  • trading on Bill Clinton’s considerable global sway to attract donors like Frank Giustra, a billionaire mining magnate who won contracts in Kazakhstan and Colombia after accompanying the former president on visits there.
  • the intersection of its work and the paid speeches that have made the Clintons rich.
  • helping launch a private global consulting firm, Teneo, that conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch calls "a kind of private-enterprise satellite to Clinton Inc."

4. Was any of this illegal?

Reports of criminal inquiries into the foundation have never been confirmed. The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, declined to say whether the agency reviewed the foundation as part of its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private e-mail system while secretary of state. Peter Schweizer, author of "Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich," has said there’s no direct evidence of wrongdoing. "Are these activities illegal? That’s not for me to say," he wrote.

5. What is Hillary Clinton’s role?

When Clinton became secretary of state in 2009, the foundation agreed to disclose its donors at the request of the White House. In 2013, after serving as secretary of state, she joined the foundation’s board and helped start three initiatives, and the foundation was renamed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. She cut ties in 2015 to run for president.

6. What’s next?

House Republicans asked the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the foundation is "a lawless ‘pay to play’ enterprise that has been operating under a cloak of philanthropy for years." The agencies are under no obligation to act on the request.

The Reference Shelf

  • A QuickTake Q&A on Clinton’s use of a private e-mail system.
  • A Bloomberg article on Frank Giustra, the Clinton Foundation donor who could be trouble for Hillary Clinton.
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