AP Found That Half Of Clinton’s Non-Government Meetings As Secretary of State Were With Foundation Donors

AP has analyzed Hillary Clinton’s meetings with people outside of the government when she was Secretary of State and found that half of them were donors to the Clinton Foundation:

More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money – either personally or through companies or groups – to the Clinton Foundation. It’s an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president.

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, according to a review of State Department calendars released so far to The Associated Press. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.

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; and 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 meetings between the Democratic presidential nominee and foundation donors do not appear to violate legal agreements Clinton and former president Bill Clinton signed before she joined the State Department in 2009. But 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…

“There’s a lot of potential conflicts and a lot of potential problems,” said Douglas White, an expert on nonprofits who previously directed Columbia University’s graduate fundraising management program. “The point is, she can’t just walk away from these 6,000 donors.”

Some of Clinton’s most influential visitors donated millions to the Clinton Foundation and to her and her husband’s political coffers. They are among scores of Clinton visitors and phone contacts in her official calendar turned over by the State Department to AP last year and in more-detailed planning schedules that so far have covered about half her four-year tenure. The AP sought Clinton’s calendar and schedules three years ago, but delays led the AP to sue the State Department last year in federal court for those materials and other records.

While it is not certain if this violates the letter of the ethics agreements Clinton entered into before becoming Secretary of State, Clinton is known to have violated the letter of the agreement in other areas, and this certainly violates the spirit. Politico discussed earlier revelations with ethicists:

Meredith McGehee, policy director for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said that the actual language of the pledge is “not surprisingly, very lawyerly … [and] there is an argument to be made that Clinton herself has not violated what was in the pledge.”

“Whether she or her aides have violated the spirit of the pledge … yeah, of course they have,” McGehee said. “The notion of continuing contact between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department — that was not supposed to happen.”

With these major ethical lapses, it was not surprising when McClatchy reported that there was no record of Clinton and her top aides undergoing the required ethics training at the State Department.

Since leaving the State Department, Clinton has been found to have violated policy with regards to using a home server rather than a government email system, failing to turn over any email for archiving which was sent over personal email, destroying over half the email and falsely claiming it was personal, and failing to disclose all donors to the Clinton Foundation as she agreed prior to her confirmation. She was found to have unethically made rulings on multiple occasions regarding parties which contributed to the Foundation and/or made unprecedented payments for speeches to Bill Clinton.

There have been questions regarding improper relationships between the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s political actions for quite a long time. On April 24, 2015 the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause called for a full audit of the Foundation:

Citing concerns about potential conflicts of interest and the influence of hidden overseas donors, Common Cause called on presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Clinton Foundation today to commission an independent and thorough review of all large donations to the foundation and to release the results.

“As Mrs. Clinton herself observed earlier this week, voluntary disclosure is not enough,” said Common Cause President Miles Rapoport. “A report in Thursday’s New York Times indicates that the Clinton Foundation violated an agreement to identify all of its donors. The foundation’s omissions create significant gaps in the information that voters need to make informed decisions at the polls.”

To ensure that the audit is complete, Rapoport said the foundation should enter into a contractual agreement with auditors to open its books fully and to make public the complete report of their review.

And to further guard against potential conflicts of interest, the foundation should stop accepting donations from foreign governments and foreign corporations, he said.

“There already is too much ‘dark money’ in our elections, in the form of spending by supposedly independent nonprofit groups that are not required to disclose their donors and operate as sort of shadow campaigns,” Rapoport said. “The Clinton Foundation and any other foundations tied to a candidate or his or her family provide one more way for potential donors to gain access and curry favor from candidates – without the public knowing about it. That lack of transparency creates a clear risk of undue influence and conflicts of interest.”

While the Clinton Foundation has garnered headlines this week, Rapoport noted that at least one other apparent presidential hopeful, Republican Jeb Bush, has close ties to a foundation. The former Florida governor created the Foundation for Excellence in Education and last year turned over its leadership to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; it should initiate and make public the same kind of independent review Common Cause is recommending for the Clinton Foundation, Rapoport said.

Though Mrs. Clinton has severed ties with the Clinton Foundation, her husband and daughter remain active in its operations.

“Six years ago, at Mrs. Clinton’s confirmation hearing for her appointment as secretary of state, then-Sen. Dick Lugar observed that ‘that foreign governments and entities may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to gain favor with the secretary of state.’ He was right, and his remarks remain relevant today as Mrs. Clinton seeks the presidency,” Rapoport said.

The evidence of a need for a full audit of the Clinton Foundation, if not a special prosecutor as Donald Trump has called for, are even greater today.

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