Clinton Foundation Charity Grade: D- Close All Branches Now
Many Clinton advocates refer to the “good work” of the Clinton Foundation and its many subsidiaries. There are so many subsidiaries and initiatives, countries and names, that it’s almost impossible to get a handle on them all. At least 90% of media attention has been on revenues paid to the Foundation (foreign donors like Saudi Arabia, and billionaires like Gilbert Chagoury). News organizations like FactCheck.org, charity rating organizations like Charity Watch, and groups that “attempt to give factual information” like Snopes repeat that the Clinton Foundation may accept funds from somewhat unsavory sources, yet all state where the money comes from is unimportant as the Foundation in all of its guises “does good work.”
Last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) said, “This was not money going into the Clinton’s family pockets. This was money going to fight malaria and AIDS.”
Pundit Van Jones told CNN, “There’s a lot of people alive in the world today because the Clinton Foundation helped on AIDS and water. And I just think sometimes it’s much to do about nothing.”
Both supporters know the Foundation states it is involved in the global fight against AIDS. However, although the words “water” and “malaria” appear on the Foundation’s website, that is all it is. Words. 100% of the Clinton Foundation’s words about malaria and “clean water” refer to “work” done by many others, with no direct connection to the Clinton Foundation, i.e. the World Health Organization, various African and Asian nations, UNESCO and others.
So, what do they do? Let’s start with something unique. The Clinton Global Initiative. No one else does anything like it: not that call it “charity” anyway. This Initiative gathers CEOs, selected charity executives, celebrities and government officials from around the world, as well as regional officials (such as CGI America) for annual Gala events. The events, attendance, and membership in the Initiative are “by invitation only” and it costs $20,000 to be a member. At the Gala CGI events, participants initiate “Commitments to Action” in various “focus areas” deemed by the Foundation to be important, such as climate change, child obesity, and “access” to economic development.
CLINTON GLOBAL INITIATIVE ……………………………..$ 23,544,381
The Commitments to Action signed by people who attend the invitation-only Clinton Global Initiative events serve as more than 95% of the Foundation’s claimed “results”. The agreements are the basis for the Foundation’s public statements that “millions of people worldwide have their lives improved” (currently, “more than 450 million”). Some of these written commitments, in PDF form, were available via the Foundation’s website. The majority of these complete agreements were removed between July and August, 2016. Only brief written public relations-oriented summaries are available at present.
In October, 2014, data analysis firm Palantir (owned by Peter Thiel) was engaged to analyze more than 3,100 “Commitments to Action” made after 10 years of Clinton Global Initiative meetings. This is a link to the full report.
The report doesn’t make much sense. It offers page after page of repetitive data comparisons because the “Commitments to Action” are pretty much meaningless. Most of them refer to “actions” or activities which either inherently have no measurable outcome (“advocacy” or “education”) or are, more critically, actions or activities the signers would undertake as a normal course of their business, governance or work. As a comparison, let’s say I am scheduled to teach three classes next semester, with a total of 75 students. I go a meeting of other teachers and sign a “Commitment to Action” to teach 75 students how to write good papers within the next four months. The people who held the meeting take credit for the work. Please do not think I am joking. I’ve reviewed dozens of them and this includes the “Partnership” agreements. They are all documenting things people are already doing, or at-best, represent agreements to make modest changes or improvements.
Those who sign the agreements come from sectors deemed of interest by the Clinton Foundation. They are all individuals, companies or government organizations or entities willing to pay the $20,000 membership. They also want to attend the gala meetings to see celebrities, meet with other power brokers, or network with others who would be of benefit to them financially or socially.
The biggest single “value” Commitment was a $10 billion/5 year one signed in 2011 by the AFL-CIO to “increase jobs” and “infrastructure” — also to
“Train 40,000 new apprentices in specialty welding and other new green technologies required in 21st century construction, and provide skill upgrades and certifications for 100,000 mid-career construction workers over the next year.”
Will this training cost $10 billion? No. The AFL-CIO said they would “work” to get the government to spend that much. All they agreed to spend on their own was $20 million in “labor affiliated funds” or a total of $4 million a year over the five year period. They were going to “advocate” with unnamed others for the additional $9.98 billion.
Putting it in context
Apprenticeships are serious business. A registered apprenticeship takes at a minimum one year, but most take four years and depending on the trade, can take up to six years. The most recent round of approximately $36 million in US Department of Labor funding for “new job” and industry apprenticeships accounts for approximately 5,000 new apprentices — and by no means are they all affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
According to Environmental Entrepreneurs, in 2013, 12,527 new jobs in retrofitting buildings and facilities for energy efficiency were created throughout the U.S. Not all of these were in trades with an apprenticeship structure or AFL-CIO jobs. The number of apprentices the AFL-CIO says it will individually train in new, “green” industries appears to be inflated by a factor of ten over what could reasonably have been accomplished or would have been needed.
By definition, a registered apprenticeship is a program where the job exists, and a master and journeyman are already working to provide supervision for the apprentice. Department of Labor programs pay for a portion of certain apprentice salaries; the remainder is supposed to be paid by the employer, or a union that knows it has a guaranteed job for the apprentice at the end of the line.
Bottom line? There is no there-there for the biggest dollar value Commitment to Action of all, and unlike most of the others, it contains elements that are among the more measurable and specific ones made throughout the Initiative’s ten year history. More important: whether or not the AFL-CIO performed perfectly, it is what they agreed to do and anything done in that regard would be 100% their responsibility. The Clinton Foundation expended only the funds to hold the meeting in the first place and pay the staff member to keep track of the paperwork. Certainly this would not total more than $190,000, the average annual cost of a “Commitment to Action” based on Clinton Foundation 2014 financial and program reports.
As noted above, the Foundation has removed the overwhelming majority of paper/PDF copies of the actual Commitments to Action from its related websites. However, a few were previously retrieved and saved. One was a 2014 renewal agreement with Beverage Industry Association partners and the related organization the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (the document clearly says “Clinton Global Initiative” at the top). The beverage industry partners include Dr. Pepper Snapple, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola.
There is no section in the Commitments to Action where a series of check boxes ask what value the action will add to the community. Only to the “organization.” You can see from the section to the left that only “learning” would probably qualify as a charitable value. All the others are related to corporate branding and promotion (“CSR” refers to Corporate Social Responsibility — all large companies have established programs that are defined as “self-regulating”).
When I first started looking at the Clinton Foundation public statements, website, and financial materials a few months ago, I looked for a mission statement and could not find it. I did not realize that the message on the website landing page was supposed to be the organization’s mission statement:
We convene businesses, governments, NGOs, and individuals to improve global health and wellness, increase opportunity for girls and women, reduce childhood obesity, create economic opportunity and growth, and help communities address the effects of climate change.
In business or nonprofit work, this is what we would call a “reverse engineered” mission statement. The Foundation took its current activities and compiled them into a “mission.” So our action words are “convene,” “improve,” “increase,” “reduce,” “create,” and “help.” In my estimation, the only part of that which is able to be documented is “convene.” They do hold those gala meetings with regularity.
Charles Ortel has been meticulously compiling financial documents and legal filings related to the Foundation for more than a year; he is by far the expert in the revenue and corporate structure of this organization. However, there is a significant problem in that reverse-engineered mission statement, as well as their entire website and public materials and the printed “Commitments to Action.” The “childhood obesity” part is the province of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a completely separate, separately located (Portland, OR), operated and funded organization. Yet their activities are included in the larger Clinton Foundation mission statement. Yes, that is typical for the Clinton Foundation; it’s also a significant legal problem and as I tell people “on the face of it” or prima facie fraudulent.
How so? The Alliance for a Healthier Generation which says it has helped children “get access” to healthy food in over 30,000 U.S. schools states firmly that it will not accept any funds from the food industry “partners” it works with. Good ethics, right?
The Clinton Foundation totally accepts money from every one of these “industry partners,” from Monsanto to Kraft to Coca Cola, PepsiCo and of course, our friends under the Golden Arches …
McDonalds, the happy place
McDonalds is the author of my personal favorite Commitment to Action. Here is the value they say they’d get from offering a choice of fruit, salad or fries with value meals worldwide, and putting a “fun” nutrition or health message on one panel of a Happy Meal container in 20 of their worldwide markets. Over an 8 year period.
Is this charitable?
The CGI gala events, “Commitments to Action,” publicity (inviting and hosting 1,000 members of the press, often the same ones who cover political campaigns such as Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper and Greta van Susteren) are similar to events held by trade associations, business leagues and similar organizations. It’s my best judgment that CGI activities might be considered in the tax-exempt 501(c)6 category — not 501(c)3, charitable. Numerous Commitments to Action are initiated by corporations. They almost universally represent something the corporation is doing to either avoid a lawsuit, government action or public relations problems.
The Foundation tells invited members that $19,000 of their $20,000 membership fee is tax-deductible. I do not think a fair, responsible analysis and ruling would find that any donations to this specific program, including the related Clinton Global Initiative University, which holds similar gala meetings for college-age students from participating, invited, membership-paying universities, should be deductible to the donor. No charitable benefit is derived by the community. There is little to no proof that any involvement of the Clinton Foundation has made any material difference to anyone who has signed a Commitment to Action much less individuals in any community. The form says one thing; reality says quite another. The whole latter portion of McDonald’s “Commitment” that refers to specific individuals and “focus areas” is blank.
McDonalds says it will monitor how it includes fruit, a side salad and fries as well as some random “fun” health and nutrition messages over an 8 year period in 20 different markets.
Did they do so? YES, they did. The firm is called Keybridge. Somebody got paid good money to confirm that …
There are 5 years to go. Progress is slow. Incremental. The fruit keeps running away when they try to catch it. Someone consistently takes the “nutrition or well being messages” away from the ads in 18 of the 20 markets.
So, to review, the yogurt in question is “Go-Gurt,” which most nutritionists would agree is not the best choice for a child although better than a chocolate shake or large order of fries. But that’s like saying skin cancer is better than Type 2 diabetes. Clementines are the only nutritionally acceptable item on McDonald’s entire children’s side menu, as the apple slices are soaked in preservatives and sealed in a plastic wrapper, not cut by a human hand and served quickly before they brown.
Key Insights for Comparison:
McDonald’s has a history of using public relations to deflect from consumer advocates, government action, exploitation and most recently — declining sales worldwide. There are two primary causes for the company’s recent sales decline: 1) a serious, widespread tainted meat scandal in China; and 2) customer share loss to perceived healthier, “fresher” and more consumer-choice-friendly competitors in the U.S., like Chipotle and Subway.
Any business consultant would tell you that giving fresh food options with value meals, and including “healthy” messages with children’s meals would be a smart market strategy for the company’s bottom line. According to the report linked above: it’s something McDonalds has done periodically since the 1970s.
As to the slow progress on the “Commitment to Action,” the company has “rebranded” almost continuously since 2013, launching numerous new menu items, going through several iterations of package design, and offering its all-day breakfast menu. The “choose your own burger” menu has been revamped and rebranded no less than three times, and currently features dijon mustard, buffalo bacon, guacamole, pepper jack cheese and jalapenos. One of America’s biggest advertisers, McDonalds has recently gotten tough with the three top ad agencies competing for its upcoming $multi-million campaigns, asking the agencies to sign a “no profit” agreement for future compensation.
Monsanto has one too!
Here is another well-known corporate citizen and its “Commitment to Action.”
Yes, Monsanto, yes, honey bees, yes, just like McDonalds only for honey bees, not helpless children.
Briefly, I’ll run down the other areas the Foundation claims to “make a difference” in. This organization reported revenue of more than $330 million in 2014. The subsidiary CHAI (Clinton Health Access Initiative), based in Boston, accounts for more than $140 million of that total. Most of CHAI’s funds are to “fight AIDS” and derive from UNITAID, the U.S. CDC, the Australian government, other nations like Cameroon, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and even celebrities like Elton John.
The reason I have not covered CHAI in-depth as I have the other aspects of the Foundation is that they are even less transparent. They “negotiate” prices and deals for AIDS/HIV drugs so they may be purchased and used by African nations. At the height of the AIDS epidemic, prohibitively high drug prices prevented people in poor nations from having access to them. That was over a decade ago. The HIV/AIDS drug price list was previously available on the internet; it, like many of the complete Commitments to Action, has been removed. I am not Charles Ortel; however I just discovered a serious discrepancy between what CHAI reports it received from the Australian government ($58.5 million) and what the Australians believe they have provided since 2005: $88 million. Here’s the MOU if you like reading stuff like that. It kind of throws in “climate change” at the end.
To learn more about CHAI, there are excellent series in the New York Times (2015) and in the Boston Globe (2015). The reporters have been consistent and the in-country reporting in Rwanda was excellent. However, investigative journalists do not have background in for-profit and non-profit business operations generally; also the Clinton Foundation employees are very non-transparent. There was clearly no disclosure of who was expending funds or paying whom, how offices and work was maintained. You can read health professionals in the article themselves stating, “The Clinton Foundation does not do the work. They offer us help and training.” CHAI has never stated it purchases drugs or distributes them. The work that can be documented and the funds provided to this part of the Clinton Foundation are highly divergent — again, this is easy to question on the face of it. Australian journalist Michael Smith has covered this extensively.
U.S. Government Funds and audits
Again, I must refer readers to Charles Ortel’s meticulously assembled, researched and documented work on the Clinton Foundation and associated entity tax filings and financial reports.
That said, I read in the Boston Globe series that CHAI head Ira Magaziner (friend of Bill Clinton from Rhodes Scholar days) averred that his division of the Foundation had received only a small grant from the U.S. government (if my memory serves me right, he said $600,000). Whatever he said, it wasn’t the $9.7 million total.
I knew from a cursory glance at the Clinton Foundation’s website, financial reports and tax filings that the organization would have trouble complying with Federal contract requirements and would certainly not be able to comply with a Federal Single Audit were they to have any contracts over the threshold amount. They did have such contracts, they do have those contracts, they do have Single Audits, and they are non-compliant. The local Little Rock version of the Clinton Foundation also has Federal contracts (I believe these are the source of the claimed ‘Climate Change’ results — the energy retrofits). Any other organization in that situation would have been at the minimum, barred from receiving future Federal funds. People have been imprisoned for mis-use of Federal funds. Here is an overview of what an operating part of the U.S. Department of Justice did to people found non-compliant with ARRA (American Reinvestment and Recovery Act). One person who misspent the funds had to repay $300,000. Others were sentenced to three and five-year prison terms.
There exists a single CDC program audit that I am able to access only the findings of. It states that CHAI’s African AIDS programs are “non-aligned” and/or “poorly aligned” with all of the $multi-billion US government and internationally-funded AIDS/HIV programs. That’s what happens when you take money, do what you feel like with it, and your activities consist primarily of telling other people what to do. As one person familiar with the Foundation, its staff (they do pay people — those people just don’t do much) and interns put it, “They write down their plan of action on a napkin on the flight over to whichever international location they’re taking safari in that day.”
Links to the previous articles in this series:
River Denial (“They Do Such Good Work!”) — highlight is the non-activities in the Coachella Valley -i.e. site of the former Bob Hope golf classic and my outrage at the McDonald’s thing. I had never heard of such a thing before. More fool me.
Slacktivists — explains how the Foundation flies in, takes credit for things others do, flies out, and the crazy Palantir report that counts the paper agreements six ways from Sunday and on to Planet Nonsense.
Unhealthier Generation — illustrates the twisted relationship between the main Clinton Foundation and the theoretically anti-obesity Alliance for a Healthier Generation that is in reality, writing up agreements to guarantee our kids get to go to either a Pepsi, or a Coke, school.
Clampdown — features how the Foundation took designated money from a dead Canadian mining founder’s charity and a NY-based reality TV coffee roaster, bought property in Haiti that the coffee company uses for its single-source Haitian coffee. Please see Dady Chery for the story of all of the devastation these people have caused in that beautiful country.
Bill’s Big Birthday Gift $300 million! — details estimate that about 10% of the funds are used on activities that would be deemed “charitable” based on prior review. Based on 2014 reported revenue, this leaves Big Bill $300 million for his 70th birthday. Happy birthday bro!
And sincerely: I can’t make this stuff up — last year, right here on Medium: all these great ones “committing” to promote themselves and make mo’ money mo’ money: “Procter & Gamble, The Coca-Cola Company, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Cisco, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Ford Foundation, Gap Inc., NRG Energy, Swiss Reinsurance Company, the Rockefeller Foundation and Western Union. In addition, Apple, GlaxoSmith Kline, Xerox and Cardinal Health.”
Amy Sterling Casil is the author of 30 nonfiction books, 3 novels, 3 short fiction & poetry collections, hundreds of articles, and also is a former high-level nonprofit fundraiser and executive, and a business planner and developer, primarily for women and non-traditional owners. You can buy her most recent book (sci fi short stories all about women) via Amazon or the largest, oldest author publishing cooperative, of which she is a co-founder.