Experts who’ve dedicated years to demanding government transparency say there are several serious issues with Bill Clinton’s promise to ban all corporate and foreign donations to his family’s troubled charity should Hillary win in November.
Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, a non-partisan watchdog group, said there are “lots of different ways” that the Clinton Foundation can work around the former president’s promise that the “Foundation will accept contributions only from U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and U.S.-based independent foundations.”
“You could have some kind of LLC or other partnership where it isn’t even clear who the donors are,” Flynn said, according to The Hill.
Chief among Flynn’s concerns is the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (CGEP), the Canada-based charity founded by longtime Clinton confidant and Canadian mining magnate Frank Giustra.
“If Secretary Clinton wins the election, we plan to spin CGEP into an independent entity to continue this important work,” said Giustra, who founded CGEP along with Bill Clinton in 2007.
Giustra’s statement simply undermines Bill Clinton’s commitment to increased transparency. The Clinton Foundation-affiliated charity has failed to reveal the identities of more than 1,100 of its donors.
While Bill Clinton promises transparency, Giustra muddles that message, saying “under Canadian laws and charitable best practices, charitable donors have a right to privacy.”
Both cannot be true.
Another Clinton Foundation affiliate, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), the Clinton Foundation’s flagship project, has signaled that it will defy Bill Clinton’s ban on foreign funds.
In response to Clinton’s announcement last month, CHAI spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle told Reuters “CHAI is a separate legal entity from the Clinton Foundation with its own Board. The CHAI Board will be meeting soon to determine its next steps.”
Other experts fear that while the Clinton Foundation will stop accepting donations from foreign-registered entities, there’s nothing in Bill Clinton’s letter that says his charity won’t accept funds from a U.S.-based nonprofit that have been transferred from a foreign government or individual.
“It just isn’t going to sit well with the public if it starts becoming exposed that a 501(c) [non-profit entity] is making huge contributions, and then later we can figure out that 501(c) has actually been set up by Saudi Arabia,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for watchdog group Public Citizen.
Larry Noble, a top lawyer for the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan watchdog agreed with Holman.
“We know from the campaign finance world that determining whether foreign funds are behind a donation from a U.S.-based organization that does not disclose its donors is almost impossible,” Noble said according to The Hill.
What’s more, past promises of transparency from the Clinton Foundation have been broken.
Before she became Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was forced to sign an ethics agreement with the Obama administration — a Memorandum of Understanding — forcing her to disclose all donations to the Clinton Foundation.
However, thanks to hacked Democratic National Committee files, it was discovered that the former head of the Russian uranium company UraniumOne, Ian Telfer, made four undisclosed Clinton Foundation donations totaling $2.35 million — a direct violation of Hillary Clinton’s promise to reveal the identity all her charity’s donors.
Given the Clintons’ shoddy record when it comes to honoring their transparency promise, Noble wonders “Who is going to enforce these rules?”
“While there are serious questions about the effectiveness of the ban on foreign national contributions in elections, at least such contributions are illegal, and making or receiving such contributions can result in civil and criminal penalties,” he said.
“As far as I can tell, there is no mechanism to enforce what is an internal foundation policy.”
The Clinton Foundation has yet to release a detailed plan explaining exactly how Bill Clinton’s proposals with be carried out and enforced.
Bill Clinton says he will step down from the Clinton Foundation board, while Chelsea Clinton will remain. Some say this simply does not go far enough. The move also raises red flags with transparency experts.
Noble says, “I’d want to know what other safeguards they’re going to have [to ensure] the foundation is not being used as a conduit to get access to the White House.”
The Clintons should “sever all connections and not have any contact with the foundation,” to ensure this happens, Noble said.
Follow Jerome Hudson on Twitter: @JeromeEHudson