Are The Clintons Foreign Agents?
Since its inception, the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation (Clinton Foundation), has received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments. The Clintons, arguably, are the closest thing America has to a royal family. In the years following the foundation’s establishment, Hillary Clinton has continued her involvement in national politics, serving in the U.S. Senate, running for President, and serving as Secretary of State. Rumors have also surfaced that First Daughter Chelsea may leverage the family name and pursue politics herself. While the humanitarian work pursued by the foundation is certainly admirable, and Bill Clinton undoubtedly is a tireless advocate for the causes the Foundation focuses on, one must wonder why these foreign entities, many with subpar humanitarian records themselves, seem so intent so funding the Clintons’ efforts.
The Foundation’s website says that among its top priorities are climate change, and women’s issues. Many of the countries funding the Foundation have, to say the least, very poor records in those two issue areas. If those issues are so important to these countries, why has there been so little progress domestically on them? How come these countries do not fund other foundations doing similar work, or sponsor other similar efforts via official government channels? According to the Foundation’s website, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has given between $10 million and $25 million to the Foundation. Does anyone really believe that these two key Foundation issues are so important to an oil-dependent nation where women cannot even drive? Or how about the State of Qatar, which the Foundation says has donated between $1 million and $5 million? In addition to a lackluster record on both aforementioned issues, Qatar has not exactly acted very friendly to U.S. interests in recent years, such as support for Hamas among other extremist organizations, including during the period that Hillary served as Secretary of State. The Qatari government spent about $5.3 million lobbying the U.S. government during Hillary’s tenure. Among the projects lobbied for by the Qataris is the 2022 World Cup slated to take place in Qatar.
The Government of Brunei has donated between $1 million and $5 million dollars as well. The Sultanate, which recently implemented strict Sharia law despite significant backlash, seems to share few of the Clinton’s liberal values. Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates also line the Foundation’s donor rolls with total contributions between $6,075,000 and $20,150,000 according to Foundation records. Again, these four countries with the UAE possibly excluded, seem to share few values with the Clintons, or the work of their Foundation.
Before Hillary’s appointment as Secretary of State, the Foundation agreed not to accept most donations from foreign governments during Clinton’s tenure. According to The Washington Post, the agreement allowed governments that had previously donated to the Foundation before Clinton’s nomination to continue giving at similar levels. The agreement also allowed foreign governments with business before the U.S. government to give to the Foundation. The Foundation failed, in at least one instance, to uphold the agreement, in accepting a donation from the Government of Algeria of $500,000. The Post says that the money was given for earthquake relief in Haiti, but at the same time, the Algerian government was spending heavily to lobby the State Department on human rights issues. Disclosures under the Foreign Agents Registration Act show that the Algerian government spent about $422,000 lobbying the State Department that year.
Several other foreign governments, including the United Kingdom, Norway,Canada and Australia, have also donated to the Clinton Foundation. But as these countries are Western-style democracies with freedom and equal rights, and do publicly share many Foundation goals, their donations to the Foundation should not be a cause of significant concern, although they are certainly not irrelevant. Because of these common values, it is not difficult to believe that their donations were to advance those values, even if in reality their purpose is more sinister. That being said, it is worth noting that a Canadian company promoting the failed Keystone XL pipeline was also donated to the Foundation while the pipeline was under consideration. But for those nations with few values in common with the Clinton family or the Foundation, it is not unreasonable to ask what motivated their generosity. To suggest that these governments were looking to buy influence with the Clintons may not be so far fetched.
Where does this leave us? The Department of Justice maintains a website for foreign agents to submit the required disclosure filings, as well as to permit the public to search for and read those filings. On the homepage, FARA.gov, the site says:
The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) was enacted in 1938. FARA is adisclosure statute that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities. Disclosure of the required information facilitates evaluation by the government and the American people of the statements and activities of such persons in light of their function as foreign agents. (Emphasis added)
Due to the ambiguity surrounding the Clinton family and the Clinton Foundation’s relationships with foreign entities, it is entirely possible that the Clintons fit this definition. Even if not explicit, there does seem to be elements of this definition at play here. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the Clinton Foundation qualifies as “quasi-political” given its activities and how it is funded. It is unlikely that the public will ever know, if, and to what extent, foreign contributors to the Clinton Foundation have played a role in Clinton’s execution of her duties as Senator or Secretary of State. Given the fact that countless prominent government officials have had their careers ended or derailed by connections equally ambiguous or far less significant, maybe it is time to shine some light on the situation. Is it entirely possible that these fundraising activities are completely benign? Absolutely. But the Clintons should learn from the mistakes of Ted Stevens, Michael Grimm, or David Petraeus, to name a few, that the public trust is not a gift, is not everlasting and should not be taken for granted.
Jacob Cohen is a senior at Yeshiva University in New York City and can be reached at email@example.com