As Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and other prospective 2016 presidential hopefuls rake in an unprecedented sum in donations and chart new territory in campaign financing, it is time to also look at Hillary Clinton’s potentially worrisome financial dealings.
Super PACs — the technically independent campaign organizations that can solicit unlimited amounts of cash and spend unlimited dollars on elections, so long as they don’t work with candidates — have handed extremely wealthy donors more power over elections since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling. And while Clinton’s fundraising has yet to match the heights already reached by her Republican opponents, her public life is fraught with slightly different, yet also concerning, examples of how close the relationship is between the wealthy business elite and political decision makers.
Hillary is once again mired in controversy, centered on the donations made by large American corporations and foreign nations to the $2 billion Clinton Foundation, a humanitarian nonprofit organization launched in 2001, and the U.S. Department of State during her tenure. The foundation, plus Bill Clinton’s speech-for-cash gig, put the couple in a position to appeal for donations from people or institutions that may have needed or had needed favors from the State Department.
The accusation — or supposition, rather, as nothing has been uncovered — is that companies like GE and countries like Algeria gave money to the Clinton Foundation in hopes of obtaining, in return, unprecedented access to and the attention of the Hillary Clinton-led Department of State, or perhaps even her future presidential administration.
The foundation gave interested parties a means to donate to Clinton without actually making a political contribution to her. Analyses of Clinton Foundation data show that at least 181 institutions — from Goldman Sachs to Google to labor union AFL-CIO — donated to the Clinton Foundation and lobbied the State Department during her tenure.
One of the more egregious examples, chronicled by The New York Times, is the story of Russian atomic energy agency Rosatom. In January 2013, it took over a Canadian company with uranium-mining assets reaching from central Asia to the western United States, prompting Pravda to claim “Russian Nuclear Energy Conquers the World,” because it brought Russian President Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of controlling much of the nuclear energy supply chain.
But, according to the Times report, the Clintons also had a stake, albeit a tenuous one; leaders of that Canadian mining company had been donors to the Clinton foundation. For the deal to be completed, it took the approval of a number of U.S. agencies, including the State Department. Following the completion of the deal, four donations totaling $2.35 million to the Clinton Foundation were made from leaders of Uranium One, the newly formed Russian company.
Those donations were not publicly disclosed by Clinton, even though she had made an agreement with President Barack Obama to do so. American politicians are banned from accepting donations from foreign sources, although foundations are allowed. Then, Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 by a Russian investment bank with ties to the Kremlin to make a speech in Moscow promoting Uranium One stock, according to The New York Times.
For now, this concerning link is far less of an issue than the routine corruption of the variety that propels presidential campaigns in the United States — see this timeline of political corruption compiled by Mother Jones — mostly because there is not smoking gun that the Clintons engaged in financial impropriety, but also because there is a chance that those who donated to the foundation did so with the sincere intention of assisting the causes the foundation supports.
Because both those factors present compelling evidence that the accusations against Clinton are baseless, her supporters have claimed investigations into the financial dealings of the companies and individuals that donated both to the foundation and lobbied the State Department are born out of political motivations.
Even though there may be no fire, the ties between donors to the Clinton Foundation and those who lobbied the State Department are worthy of examination because of Hillary’s bid for president, and because any investigation into this flow of cash will shine a light onto the corruption of modern American politics. As Vox’s Ezra Klein noted, the influence buying that might have happened indirectly with the Clinton Foundation happens blatantly in every single major presidential election.
The reason this potential scandal has gotten so much more attention is because the regular influence buying of the electoral cycle is become just that: routine. Case in point, conservative billionaire industrialists Charles G. and David Koch have budgeted $889 million for the 2016 elections. The money at the nexus of the Hillary-led State Department, the Clinton foundation, and Bill’s speech-for-cash gig, is concerning.
But more worrisome is that this type of symbiotic relationship, whether anything illegal has happened, is not at all unusual in American politics.
Peter Schweizer, author of controversial Clinton Cash, could not prove that Hillary Clinton took any official action in the State Department because of contributions to the Clinton Foundation. He conceded that while he identified a “pattern of behavior,” it was no evidence of hard corruption.
Hillary, who has repeatedly promised disclosure and transparency, has remained largely quiet on the issue, while Bill said the foundation had ”never done anything knowingly inappropriate.”