Tomorrow, sometime before noon, Bill and Hillary Clinton will make their entrance onto the inaugural stage, where they will be seated with former presidents, President Obama, SCOTUS members, and a gaggle of other distinguished citizens who are not under investigation by the FBI or anybody else.
What will the Clintons be thinking? No doubt, former President Clinton honors the peaceful transition of power this nation has enjoyed and preserved for over 240 years. Aside from the constitutional niceties, however, there’s another, far more personal reason for the Clintons to be present. Their very appearance will wash them with an air of noblesse oblige no other venue can offer. Their presence will stir the faithful and remind the nation of their place in our halls of honor, and perhaps, even rinse away memories of The Clinton Global Initiative.
The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) is one of four activities sheltered under the umbrella organization called The Clinton Foundation. As of the end of fiscal year 2014, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) had revenues of about $129 million. Next in income was CGI with just over $23 million, then the Clinton Presidential Center with nearly $12.5 million, and lastly, the Clinton Climate Initiative with a slightly under $8.3 million.
Here’s where the foundation’s status and its practices muddy investigative efforts. One of the charity industry’s principal watchdog groups is Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org), and in respect to the Clintons, its task must be formidable. At one time, the Clinton Foundation held a Four Star Charity rating, the organization’s highest. Then, it disappeared altogether from Navigator’s site, but in an article in The Wire, June 19, 2015, by Robert Farley, in which he appears to defend the foundation, he quotes Charity Navigator: “We had previously evaluated this organization, but have since determined that this charity’s atypical business model (emphasis added) cannot be accurately captured in our current rating methodology. Our removal (emphasis added) from the site is neither a condemnation nor an endorsement of this charity. … It simply means that the organization doesn’t meet our criteria.” Sound like baloney?
Farley quotes Navigator’s Sandra Miniutti, who said the foundation wasn’t rated because it “spun off some entities (chiefly CHAI) and then later brought some, like the Clinton Global Initiative, back into the fold.” Miniutti went on to say if the Clinton Foundation were to maintain a stable structure “for several years,” Charity Navigator would be able to rate it again. On the watchdog’s website, there’s a category for “Historical Ratings,” but only one is listed: as of September 1, 2016, just when the presidential campaign was heating up, the foundation’s prized Four Star Charity status was miraculously restored.
The reason the foundation is “atypical” is that it claims, principally via CHAI activities, to be an operating foundation (as opposed to a donation vehicle) with over 1,500 employees around the world, and available documentation seems to back up CHAI bona fides (CHAI has begun to disassociate itself from the Clintons). What’s muddier, however, is that the foundation’s current rating is based on consolidated financials covering the four entities listed above, and that means there’s no way to fully sort out CGI’s revenue use. It may well have been the CGI question that caused Charity Navigator to run for the hills a year or so ago. What prompted their Four Star reconsideration is, of course, another question.
What’s so stinky about CGI?
On the website, there’s an FAQ that should make careful readers cringe, in light of rampant pay-to-play charges. It boasts about CGI’s meetings (since 2005) which have brought together “more than 190 sitting and former heads of state,” not to mention nearly two dozen Nobel Prize winners, hundreds of CEOs, philanthropists, and others. CGI’s major event, held in New York City when the UN convenes each fall, is meant to provide an appropriate venue—at CGI’s expense—for organizations to “maximize their social impact.” It has “an unrivaled ability…to connect members…through one-on-one introductions, and focused networking opportunities.” The CGI community hosts “a number of stand-alone engagements that bring members together to network, share knowledge, and collaborate…” In particular, the New York meeting is “the preeminent venue for leaders across sectors to convene to develop effective solutions to global challenges.”
This past September’s annual meeting—CGI’s major charitable activity for the year—may well have been one helluva three-day cocktail party/conference where the only hunger satisfied went with Grey Goose and tonic. Jon Bon Jovi, U2’s Bono, Sting, and Ben Affleck all lent the event panache, and to be sure, great ideas went back and forth amongst the luminaries, but let’s not kid each other. It’s always been about access to heads of state and senior American policymakers. To suggest otherwise is to have us believe casino owners don’t know people come there to play for stakes.
In Farley’s 2015 piece, he said—in regard to conferences—“nearly 98 percent of money spent was tabbed as a programming expense.” Moreover, “about 73 percent” of salaries, including pension plans, health and other benefits and payroll taxes also fell under “program service expenses.” So, when the Clinton Foundation website says it spends nearly 87 percent of its revenues on program services, that figure apparently includes all the foundation’s overhead, including the bashes hosted by CGI.
It must have been a bitter humiliation to shut down CGI with April layoffs, even after the announced September retrenchment. It appears that Hillary’s November electoral loss triggered heavy foreign donors to fade into the mists. Alas, no more million-dollar birthday checks from an Arabian prince to Bill! If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…
As the Clintons listen to Donald J. Trump take the oath becoming the nation’s 45th president, one suspects they’ll be hoping that as CGI disappears, so, too, will an FBI investigation that could make them felons.
Well, not if it’s a duck.