WASHINGTON (AP) — In its decision to limit contributions from foreign governments to six nations and provide more frequent disclosures about donations, the Clinton Foundation alluded Thursday to the political dimensions of its new moves. The Clinton family's charity acknowledged on its website that it made the changes in light of Hillary Rodham Clinton's decision to run for president, but the new guidelines may provide only limited protection from ethics concerns.
The new policy appeared aimed at insulating Clinton from future controversies by stopping the flow of millions of dollars already donated by Mideast governments accused of repression of dissenters and women's rights. Some of the millions from foreign governments were donated during Clinton's four-year tenure as secretary of state. More came during her work as a director of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation until she resigned last week from the charity's board to begin her 2016 presidential campaign.
Ethics experts said the foundation's changes will offer some needed distance between Clinton and her family foundation's ties to foreign governments. But they said the new standards appeared driven more by politics than ethics and failed to address the full impact of as much as $130 million already donated by international governments, the charity's reliance on private foreign interests and former President Bill Clinton's dual role as foundation director and Hillary Clinton's closest political adviser.
"They're clearly sensitive to these questions, but they've reacted through a political prism," said Douglas White, director of the Fundraising Management Graduate Program at Columbia University in New York. "From a philanthropic ethics perspective, they need to ensure that there is zero foreign influence, whether it comes from new money from foreign governments or money already donated."
Until the new guidelines were imposed, at least 16 foreign governments gave between $55 million and $130 million, according to an Associated Press analysis of contribution ranges provided by the foundation. Under the new rules, only six governments will be allowed to continue giving to the Clinton family charity — Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom.
Foundation officials justified accepting donations from those six governments because their previous gifts were earmarked for specific health, poverty and climate change programs — and not as funding that could be used for any purpose. The foundation website said those countries only "will support our ongoing programmatic work."
Ethics experts said they saw no clear ethical founding for such a distinction between those six governments and others.
"The major question here was whether the foundation would erect strong firewalls between foreign governments and a potential future president of the United States," said Lawrence Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Hubert H. Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota. "By picking and choosing, they're playing favorites between palatable governments and those that could be an embarrassment."
Since it began accepting donations in 2001, the Clinton family foundation has taken in millions from Mideast governments under fire at times for suppression of dissent and treatment of women, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Algeria and Morocco. The charity's continuing funding from those nations could undercut Hillary Clinton's support in the 2016 race — a point stressed recently by potential GOP opponent Rand Paul.
"Hillary Clinton has taken money from countries where rape victims are publicly lashed," Paul said earlier in the week.
While direct contributions from other governments would be halted, those nations could continue limited participation in the Clinton Global Initiative, a subsidiary program that encourages donors to match contributions from others to tackle international problems without direct donations to the charity.
However, the foundation will stop holding CGI meetings abroad — a final session is scheduled for Morocco in May — and most foreign governments will no longer sponsor or pay for CGI programs. Other governments that previously gave to the foundation include Italy, Brunei, Taiwan and the Dominican Republic.
Clinton's campaign referred questions about the board's action to the foundation. Last month, while still a board member, Clinton brushed off concerns about foreign donors, saying the foundation had hundreds of thousands of donors. Before becoming secretary of state, she agreed to limit new foreign donations to the foundation while she served.
But at least six nations that previously contributed still donated to the charity during her four-year stint. In one case, the foundation failed to notify the State Department about a donation from Algeria.
The foundation also said it will begin disclosing its donors every quarter instead of annually — answering criticism that the charity's once-a-year reporting made it difficult to identify shifting donation patterns. The foundation still will not provide exact donation amounts or when they were given, which could have offered more transparency.