A glimpse inside operations at the Clinton Foundation

Email a Friend

Clinton Foundation iPad covers are seen for sale at the Clinton Museum Store in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 27, 2015. The Clinton Foundation's acting chief executive admitted on Sunday that the charity had made mistakes on how it listed government donors on its tax returns and said it was working to make sure it does not happen in the future. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RTX1AJQI

Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now to the 2016 presidential race, and the growing scrutiny over Bill and Hillary Clinton’s namesake foundation.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Nominee: It’s impossible to tell where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins.

HARI SREENIVASAN: That was Republican nominee Donald Trump today in Tampa, Florida.

The Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit, was started back in 1997, and in less than two decades, has grown into a philanthropic giant. In 2014, the foundation took in $338 million and had $250 million in expenses, geared toward improving global access to AIDS drugs, speaking out on women’s rights, and more.

But some of the countries that contribute to the Clinton Foundation struggle with human rights issues of their own, like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Kuwait.

And a recent Associated Press analysis found that about half of the 150 people from outside government who met with or spoke by phone with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state either donated or pledged donations to the Clinton Foundation.

This morning, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook responded.

ROBBY MOOK, Clinton Campaign Manager: By our count, there were 1,700 other meetings that she had. You know, she was secretary of state. She was meeting with foreign officials and government officials constantly. So, to pull all of them out of the equation, cherry-pick a very small number of meetings, is pretty outrageous.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And in a statement posted on Monday, Bill Clinton said that, if Hillary is elected, the foundation would — quote — “accept contributions only from U.S. citizens, permanent residents and U.S.-based independent foundations, and not foreign or corporate entities.” He also said he would step down from its board, and stop fund-raising for it.

DONALD TRUMP: The amounts involved, the favors done, and the significant number of times it was done require an expedited investigation by a special prosecutor immediately, immediately, immediately.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Still, the Republican ticket has seized on the Clinton Foundation as a line of attack in recent days.

But as Trump’s campaign stop today made clear, the questions swirling around the philanthropic group could keep on swirling as the campaign moves into the final stretch.

We dig into the details now, with Doug White, former director of Columbia University’s graduate fund-raising management program, and an adviser to nonprofit groups and philanthropists, and James Grimaldi, investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

Doug White, let me start with you. What’s the core critique of how the foundation operates?

DOUG WHITE, Former Director, Columbia University Fundraising Management: Well, right now, the core critique should be what its mission is accomplishing around the world. We don’t know the specifics on that, but they are doing a lot of good work around the world, from my estimation.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And so is there an appearance of impropriety or a conflict of interest in how the foundation works or whether or not it increased access to Secretary of State Clinton?

DOUG WHITE: There is most definitely an appearance of impropriety. There’s no question about that at all.

My concern is what kind of influence prior to now that has been into Secretary Clinton’s office, and then, as — if she becomes president, what will the influence be then?

I don’t want to have a president who is that enhanced by the donors of other — by another charity, so that when we have questions that are dealing with the issue of international relationships, we have to separate that from what a foundation is all about.

HARI SREENIVASAN: James Grimaldi, what are the meetings that Secretary of State Clinton took that are raising these concerns?

JAMES GRIMALDI, The Wall Street Journal: Well, there was a recent Associated Press report that analyzed the calendars of Secretary Clinton.

And they looked at all the private meetings for the first half of her tenure at the State Department, because that’s all that’s been released under the lawsuit they have under the Freedom of Information Act. There were 145 meetings, and about 85, I believe, of those meetings were with Clinton Foundation donors.

So, that raised the question about whether those meetings meant that if you paid money to the donation or gave some sort of gift that you were going to get expedited treatment at the State Department.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Even if this is a limited cross-section of all the meetings that she took, is there evidence or are there issues where she advocated on behalf of companies that might have contributed to the foundation?

JAMES GRIMALDI: Yes, so I took a look at that question.

We broke down all of the donors for the Clinton Foundation. We categorized them by size. And then we looked at the largest corporation. Of those corporations, we then compared them with lobbying records that are filed with the United States Congress.

When we did that, we found that 60 corporations that were lobbying the State Department while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state had given $26 million to the Clinton Foundation. In addition, they had participated in commitments, they call them, charitable projects, with the Clinton Foundation, valued by the foundation at more than $2 billion.

Those are sort of big numbers in terms of that. The billions didn’t go to the Clinton Foundation. They went to charities and charitable activities, but the Clinton Foundation rightly takes some credit for those.

So the question is, when these favors that Hillary is doing for certain companies or these companies are seeking favors from Secretary Clinton, were they giving because they were hoping she was going to help them out?

Now, in certain cases, we know that she actually did help certain companies out. But, in those cases, they were probably for logical, rational reasons any secretary of state, for example, lobbying the Russians to buy jets from Boeing, lobbying Algeria to buy $2 billion worth of generators from General Electric.

But we also know that both of those companies, as well as others like Microsoft, Wal-Mart who had asked for favors and gotten them, also had given gifts to the Clinton Foundation, either before, during or after those favors were performed by Secretary Clinton.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Doug White, how do we sort out intent? If a Boeing or Microsoft comes in and says, well, look, this is in our best interest, we were not trying to curry favor to gain access to her, we believe in the causes that the Clinton Foundation is working on?

DOUG WHITE: I think what Jim said is absolutely correct. and you can’t really parse out intent.

And as a result of that, that’s why we have the larger question of really separating the Clintons from the foundation. And it’s not just that there is a conflict of interests. It’s the execution of conflict of interests.

And as long as she has the ability to be perceived as having a favor or a favorite place or person, then the public is going to be very excited about that and very upset about that. And I don’t think that’s the kind of anchor she needs going into her presidency, should she be elected.

HARI SREENIVASAN: James Grimaldi, what about the steps that President Bill Clinton and the foundation said that they are planning to take going forward if Mrs. Clinton is elected to the White House?

JAMES GRIMALDI: Well, that’s interesting. They seem to be almost in flux.

As you just reported, they will stop taking corporate and foreign government gifts. However, we found out recently, just in the last couple of days, there is a major exception to that. It’s possible and perhaps even likely that the Clinton Global Health Access Initiative, which has a separate board, may actually continue to take foreign government contributions and corporate gifts.

This was revealed to us today in our questioning. While we found out that Bill Clinton will leave the Clinton Foundation board, we now know that Chelsea Clinton, their daughter, is going to remain on the board. And we don’t know, because they haven’t said or apparently have not decided. She may actually be raising money for the Clinton Foundation going forward.

So there’s a possibility that we will have a president of the United States whose daughter is raising millions of dollars for their foundation, or the remnants of their foundation, going into her administration. That has to be a cloud that should — will probably hang over her if there ends up being appearances of conflicts of interests.

HARI SREENIVASAN: James Grimaldi, Doug White, thank you both.

DOUG WHITE: Thank you.

JAMES GRIMALDI: Thank you.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And we are joined now by Donna Shalala, president of the Clinton Foundation. She served as secretary of health and human services in the Bill Clinton administration.

Madam Secretary, thanks for joining us.

Members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, as well as your foundation, have said recently that there is — has been no conflict of interests in the meetings that Secretary Clinton took with those people who also happen to be donors to the Clinton Foundation. Can you see the appearance of impropriety?

DONNA SHALALA, President, Clinton Foundation: Well, our goal is to eliminate all appearance of impropriety if Mrs. Clinton is elected.

And the president has already announced not only that we won’t take any corporate donations or foreign donations, but he will leave a role in governance. He will leave the board of the foundation.

And, as for the other organizations which are our partners, we will make sure that both the governance is clean, but, more importantly, that those programs are spun off, either as separate 501(c)(3)s without our participation, or we will find partners that will take over the responsibility.

We help millions of people around the world. There are 100,000 farmers in East Africa that depend on the Clinton programs for their seeds, for technical assistance, for training. We have to make sure that whether they’re women entrepreneurs in Latin America or farmers in Africa or Asia that all of these programs are seamlessly transferred either to other organizations or to become independent organizations.

We have already announced that the Clinton Global Initiative, the great matchmaker between not-for-profit foundations and corporations to do wonderful charity work around the world, that that will end after this September’s conference.

So we’re taking very strong steps, but it would be irresponsible to do all of this before she is elected. And so, if she is elected, we will take very strong steps that will make it very clear that the Clinton Foundation has no conflict of interests, as many as we can reduce, by spinning off or finding partners for our major programs.

We will keep some domestic programs. We can — we have full responsibility for the Clinton Presidential Library, for the Clinton Center in Little Rock, which has had tremendous economic interests and impact on Arkansas.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Sure.

DONNA SHALALA: So, people forget the Clinton Foundation includes a major presidential library and center.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Sure.

Well, I don’t think anybody would fault President Clinton for wanting to be involved with his own library, but how about having President Clinton, Chelsea Clinton as well, step away completely from the foundation?

There are lots of foundations around the planet that are doing the work that you’re interested in and are good at it.

DONNA SHALALA: And, in fact, we will find partners, successful partners, to make sure that the programs that we have continue and continue seamlessly.

And that’s what we’re working on now. The president has made this announcement. Chelsea has said that she is going to stay on the foundation board to provide oversight for this transformation. And we will have announcements about her role in the future as well.

But I think the important thing is that all of this will take place and we will make sure it’s in place if Mrs. Clinton is elected. We have a responsibility to millions of people around the world that we have — that our programs have an impact on. And we simply cannot walk away from that.

And the idea that we could just close down the foundation without carefully going program by program, and making certain that the people that are served by those programs actually continue to get those kinds of services would be irresponsible.

HARI SREENIVASAN: If Mrs. Clinton does win the White House, then, would Chelsea Clinton step away as well from her role on the board?

DONNA SHALALA: We will have an announcement about that if Mrs. Clinton is elected.

I think the important thing now is that we have made a series of statements about what we’re going to do with the programs. The major programs, we have actually been very clear about. And we have some smaller programs that we’re working through, thinking about what partners and talking to partners.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Sure.

DONNA SHALALA: But all of this takes place if she is elected.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Ms. Shalala, President Bill Clinton is no stranger to politics. Neither is Hillary Clinton. Even as she was being confirmed for the secretary of state position, several senators tried to bring this up, the appearance of impropriety, the potential conflict of interests.

But the question really is, is that does the foundation offer an opportunity, a vehicle to access a sitting secretary of state, a senator or possibly a president? There are so many different — in these emails, we see people have who have given significant amounts of money have access or have had access at short notice to her. Is that a coincidence?

DONNA SHALALA: I wouldn’t describe it as a coincidence, but let me say this, that we know very clearly what conflict of interests we have to eliminate as part of the foundation.

We’re focused on the foundation program. And no one should assume, if they give a gift to the foundation, that they’re going to get access to Mrs. Clinton or to President Clinton because of that for the purposes of changing public policy. And we’re committed to that.

The president is committed to that. There was a memorandum of agreement between the secretary and the administration that she went in to. I think it was signed off on by the Foreign Relations Committee.

And while we made one small mistake, in my judgment, in terms of what we were supposed to submit through that process, as far as I’m concerned, we have kept — we kept to that agreement.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Sure.

DONNA SHALALA: But, more importantly, what we’re doing now is very significant. We cannot do the same types of things that we did when she was secretary of state. We have to take a much stronger position to eliminate any perception of conflict of interests.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Right.

I think that right now, unfortunately, because this is the political season, the examples that are being brought out in these emails happen to be in the public domain now. Right? You have got a billionaire that was coincidentally at a breakfast meeting at the New York Stock Exchange. The next day, the State Department starts working on a visa request on his behalf, the wife of another billionaire who got a last-minute meeting.

We have got another billionaire. I mean, it sort of — without having to cherry-pick individual meetings, it clearly to the American public points out that there seemed to be a line. If you helped the foundation, you had access to Mrs. Clinton.

And I think the concern is…

DONNA SHALALA: Well, I think we have to be careful about that conclusion.

The major companies in the United States, the multinationals spend billions of dollars lobbying in Washington. So, I don’t think that anyone has made any connection there.

But here’s what’s important. What’s important to us is that there are millions of people around the world whose lives are improved by the work of the Clinton Foundation, whose lives have been changed by the work of the Clinton Foundation.

We have to make sure that work continues. The president has reinvented philanthropy in this country. This is an extraordinary foundation. And no one in the foundation wants to see these attacks or in any way be perceived as having a conflict of interests.

And by the end of the election, if she wins, it will be very clear to the American people what we will do and what programs will remain in the foundation. The only thing I can assure you at the moment is the Clinton Library is going to remain in the foundation and that the president is going to visit his foundation, library.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

Thank you, Donna Shalala, the president of the Clinton Foundation. Thanks for joining us.

The post A glimpse inside operations at the Clinton Foundation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.