It’s very likely that Hillary Clinton’s campaign will survive her family’s extremely bad judgment regarding money and just as likely that she has understood that fact from the start. Still, the former secretary of state, New York senator and first lady seems strangely determined to remind everyone that the Clinton White House years weren’t the bed of roses that the rearview mirror suggests.
Who knows where this sense of financial entitlement comes from, but the inability of the Clintons – Hillary and Bill – to avoid the appearance of bad decision-making is becoming legendary. Who doesn’t remember the couple charging guests who wanted to sleep in the White House’s Lincoln Bedroom? Such was their pattern: tawdry but not illegal.
So it is again at the unholy crossroads of the Clinton Foundation’s fundraising and Hillary Clinton’s work as secretary of state. The two have combined in ways that raise questions about whether foreign entities ponied up to the foundation in order to curry favor with the State Department and, possibly, with the country’s next president.
At the very least, this creates a perception of conflict that no one, not even a Clinton, could have mistaken. Yet the Clintons are blind to it – and very likely willfully blind.
The problem isn’t that the Clintons are running a foundation or that they command enormous speaking fees that have made them wealthy. The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation has been an internationally useful entity and, if people are willing to pay high prices to hear the Clintons speak, so are fans of the Buffalo Bills and the Rolling Stones willing to pay up. That’s just supply and demand.
But as the communications director of the Center for Responsive Politics told the Washington Post, the calculation changes when fundraising occurs while one partner is running the State Department and also preparing to run for the presidency.
“It wouldn’t have been hard to predict that the foundation’s acceptance of huge tranches of foreign money would raise questions about whether those donors would get favorable treatment if Hillary Clinton wins the White House,” said Viveca Novak.
Her point is not only true, it’s as obvious as the flashing lights on a police car. An example, first reported in the New York Times: A Canadian executive who donated heavily to the Clinton Foundation led a uranium mining company that was sold to the Russians, benefiting from a deal that had to be approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department. Quid pro quo? Who knows? A second executive, Frank Giustra, a major foundation donor, sealed a deal to buy uranium from Kazakhstan in 2005 shortly after a visit to that country with Bill Clinton.
Why didn’t the Clintons take steps to insulate themselves from legitimate criticisms that were inevitably going to arise? The only plausible conclusion is that they really don’t care about the criticism. Based on history, they’ll survive it and come out ahead.
Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Beyond that, current polling and, more importantly, demographics give her an advantage in the general election. And by the time November 2016 rolls around, the topic of conversation will have changed, as it always does.
Candidates for high office are judged on a sliding scale, depending on the opponent and what issues are important to the public. But a single incident can also change the perception of a candidate, as Mitt Romney discovered after the leak of his infamous comments about the 47 percent of the country he declared to be losers.
You never know when you’re going to be bitten. Wisdom would require the Clintons to be far more careful in their relationship to donors. But there’s no reason to think they will be.