Clinton Foundation

“Most family charities exist to allow self-made Americans to disperse their good fortune to philanthropic causes. The Clinton Foundation exists to allow the nations’ most powerful couple to use their not-so-subtle persuasion to exact global tribute for a fund that promotes the Clintons.” Kimberley A. Strassel

The Clinton Foundation Super PAC

It’s past time to drop the fiction that the Clinton Foundation is a charity.

Hillary and Bill Clinton at a 2014 Clinton Global Initiative meeting.

Hillary and Bill Clinton at a 2014 Clinton Global Initiative meeting. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Republican presidential aspirants are already launching political-action committees, gearing up for the expensive elections to come. They’ll be hard-pressed to compete with the campaign vehicle Hillary Clinton has been erecting these past 14 years. You know, the Clinton Foundation.

With the news this week that Mrs. Clinton—the would-be occupant of the White House—is landing tens of millions from foreign governments for her shop, it’s long past time to drop the fiction that the Clinton Foundation has ever been a charity. It’s a political shop. Bill and Hillary have simply done with the foundation what they did with cattle futures and Whitewater and the Lincoln Bedroom and Johnny Chung—they’ve exploited the system.

Most family charities exist to allow self-made Americans to disperse their good fortune to philanthropic causes. The Clinton Foundation exists to allow the nation’s most powerful couple to use their not-so-subtle persuasion to exact global tribute for a fund that promotes the Clintons.

Oh sure, the foundation doles out grants for this and that cause. But they don’t rank next to the annual Bill Clinton show—the Clinton Global Initiative event—to which he summons heads of state and basks for a media week as post-presidential statesman. This is an organization that in 2013 spent $8.5 million in travel expenses alone, ferrying the Clintons to headliner events. Those keep Mrs. Clinton in the news, which helps when you want to be president. 

It’s a body that exists to keep the Clinton political team intact in between elections, working for the Clintons’ political benefit. Only last week it came out that Dennis Cheng, who raised money for Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 bid, and then transitioned to the Clinton Foundation’s chief development officer, is now transitioning back to head up Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 fundraising operation. Mr. Cheng has scored $248 million for the foundation, and his Rolodex comes with him. The Washington Post reported this week that already half the major donors backing Ready for Hillary, a group supporting her 2016 bid, are also foundation givers.

How much of these employees’ salaries, how much of Mrs. Clinton’s travel, was funded by the Saudis? Or the United Arab Emirates, or Oman, or any of the other foreign nations that The Wall Street Journal Tuesday reported have given millions to the foundation this past year? How many voters has Mrs. Clinton wooed, how many potential donors has she primed, how many influential people has she recruited for her campaign via the Clinton Foundation?

The foundation claims none, but that’s the other Clinton stroke of brilliance in using a charity as a campaign vehicle—we can’t know. Poor Jeb Bush has to abide by all those pesky campaign-finance laws that require him to disclose exact donor names, and dates and amounts. And that also bar contributions from foreign entities.

Not a problem for Team Clinton. The foundation does divulge contributors—after a fashion—but doesn’t give exact amounts or dates. Did Mrs. Clinton ever take any oddly timed actions as secretary of state? Who knows? Not the Federal Election Commission.

The foundation likes to note that it adopted self-imposed limits on foreign contributions during the period when Mrs. Clinton was at the State Department. Which is nice. Then again, that ban wasn’t absolute, and it isn’t clear it encompassed nonprofits funded by foreign governments, or covered wealthy foreigners, or foreign corporations. Nothing is clear. This is the Clintons. That’s how they like it.

This is the baseline scandal of the Clinton Foundation—it’s a political group that gets to operate outside the rules imposed on every other political player. Then comes the ethical morass. Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short summed it up perfectly in a Wednesday WSJ story: “When that 3 a.m. phone call comes, do voters really want to have a president on the line who took truckloads of cash from other countries?”

The nation’s ethics guardians have gently declared the Clintons might clear this up with more disclosure, or by again limiting the foundation’s acceptance of foreign money. What about the amounts already banked? The damage is done. If this were Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a likely GOP candidate, he’d be declared disqualified for office. The benefit of being a Clinton is that the nation expects this, and the bar for disqualification now sits in the exosphere.

Democrats might nonetheless consider how big a liability this is for their potential nominee. It’s hard to label your GOP opponent anti-woman when the Clinton Foundation is funded by countries that bar women from voting and driving like Saudi Arabia. It’s hard to call your GOP opponent a heartless capitalist—out of tune with middle-class anxieties—when you owe your foundation’s soul to Canadian mining magnates and Ethiopian construction billionaires. And it’s hard to claim you will fix a burning world when you owe foundation gratitude to countries holding the fossil-fuel blowtorches.

Mrs. Clinton won’t let that stop her. So Democrats have to decide if they want to once again put their ethics in the blind Clinton trust.

Write to kim@wsj.com

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