The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Private Rooftop Garden:
An Obscene Violation Of Charity Law & Principles
At least as far back as the days of decadent Roman emperors such as Nero and Caligula, elaborate gardens have been notorious as an unseemly indulgence by those with wealth or power or both. It is easy to understand why, for though a small herbal garden adds charm to even a humble home, the notion that people who purport to care about the country they govern or have governed would squander public resources on an ornamental garden for personal pleasure can well be taken to epitomize the sort of arrogance that ultimately leads to revolution. Such is the case with the 14,000 square foot rooftop garden that the Clinton Foundation (the legal name of which is the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation) had installed in 2007 on the rooftop of the Presidential library in Little Rock Arkansas (the “Rooftop Garden”).
Though there was some publicity about the Rooftop Garden when it was installed back in 2007, hardly anyone knows that it exists. That is because it is private. That should strike anyone — regardless of political persuasion — as being problematic if not disgusting given that it would appear to have been financed entirely by donations to what is ostensibly a charitable foundation. Exactly how it was financed is not known because the financial records of the Clinton Foundation are a joke. A serious professional audit of them began only a few years ago, but the firm hired to conduct the audit, Pricewaterhousecoopers (PWC), did not delve deeply into the past: its audit covered only 2010 and later. By stopping there PWC effectively implied that no “financial statement” of the Clinton Foundation prior to 2010 can be trusted.
Uncovering The Obscene Violation Of Charity Law & Principles The Rooftop Garden Constitutes
The fact that there is a private penthouse on top of the Presidential library in Little Rock is relatively well known. Even the New York Times admits to knowing about it:
Not surprisingly, given what Bill Clinton is best known for, it has been reported that he invites young women up to it when he is in Little Rock to give him a “massage” while they enjoy some wine with him.
WTF Do We Have Presidential Libraries For?
Before getting into the Rooftop Garden, it is fair to raise a question about the phenomenon of Presidential libraries. They have been a sore topic for years, as they are among the most embarrassing symptoms of the imperialization of the Presidency over the past century. Given modern technology, it is absurd that they even exist. A physical library with physical records at this point is an anachronism. I know because I have borrowing privileges at one of the finest physical libraries in the world at Columbia University. Hardly anyone uses it compared to those who access such books, periodicals and other records as they want or need via the internet.
But Wait! There Is More Than Just A Library
As you can see from the Google Earth picture beneath the heading for this post, there is more than just a library at the Presidential library in Little Rock: there is a restaurant, an ‘upscale’ restaurant at least by local standards (Google refers to it as a “sleek outlet” — no doubt a phrase they were paid to use).
If the idea of a charitable foundation running a restaurant grates on your nerves, then you must be . . . a Republican? . . . or perhaps just someone who cares about right and wrong: what is legal and moral versus what is illegal and immoral. For example, personally, I have no problem with people drinking alcohol, but the idea of a charitable organization raising funds in order to run a restaurant and catering service that sells alcohol strikes me as absurd (by contrast, serving alcohol at a fundraising event is by itself not problematic).
Whose Idea Was It To Approve All This?
Quite apart from the moral implications of a publicly funded private massage parlor “residence” and an upscale restaurant at a Presidential library, there are some legal implications to all this. Explaining them, however, is to say the least, not easy. Indeed, given the association such opulence has with the Roman Empire it is appropriate to characterize the complexity of the Clinton Foundation as byzantine. The ‘multi-D’ chess metaphor would hardly be sufficient.
The IRS blessed the idea of a charitable foundation to fund the Presidential library. But it should be noted that the exact wording the IRS used leaves much to the imagination — too much as its seems given who is behind all this. Here is what was proposed:
The IRS accepted that as meeting the relevant requirements for non-profit status but with the following proviso:
As opaque as IRS rules and regulations can be, it is nonetheless as obvious as anything can be that the IRS does not approve of non-profit organizations being operated in a manner that “inures” to the benefit of private individuals:
Hence, it is difficult to see how the massage parlor “residence” or the upscale restaurant are consistent with IRS regulations — not to mention the Rooftop Garden.
Everyone Knows What ‘IRS’ Means: But What Is ‘NARA’?
In addition to the IRS, every Presidential library — as a library and not a massage parlor/residence or restaurant — is not merely subject to the regulations of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) — it is operated by NARA. In addition, the entire project needs to be submitted to Congress. In the case of the Clinton Foundation, however, given one of the addressees of its submission, one can readily infer that this did not involve strict scrutiny:
The involvement of NARA is one reason — but certainly not the only one — that the Clinton Foundation is hardly something that can be overlooked simply because Bill Clinton is old and frail or that Hillary lost the last election. NARA and the Clinton Foundation entered into a joint operating agreement in 2004 that has a term of nearly 100 years. Here is the front page of that agreement:
Here is its term provision:
Because of NARA’s rules and regulations a plan had to be submitted with estimated costs:
But Wait! There Is Another Governmental Entity Involved:
The City Of Little Rock
As I cautioned above, there is byzantine complexity to this and assessing what to make of the cost estimate above requires some context about the overall project, which essentially was an urban redevelopment project for Little Rock, Arkansas rather than a charitable project. Here is the cost estimate from the lease between the City of Little Rock (“Landlord”) and the Clinton Foundation (“Tenant”):
Do not be fooled by the “Landscaping” line item and estimate: that has nothing to do with the Rooftop Garden, rather that relates to the land around the Library (part of which is visible in the Google Earth picture beneath the heading for this post). Yet, it is curious that the estimates for the library and archives — if you combine them, rounding each up to the nearest $ million ($54MM for the Library and Museum, $19MM for the Archives)— total more than twice ($73MM= 36.5MM x 2) the estimate ($36MM) given to the NARA. Such discrepancies in the financial records of the Clinton Foundation relate to why PWC did not go further back in time than 2010 with their audit work they did for the Clinton Foundation a few years ago.
The Dissonance Between IRS & NARA Regulations
Notwithstanding the strict requirement the IRS imposes on non-profit organizations with respect to operations that inure to the benefit of private individuals, NARA has allowed Presidential libraries to have spaces that are not operated by NARA. Arguably such spaces could be operated in compliance with IRS regulations. Yet, the penthouse massage parlor/residence and to a certain extent the upscale restaurant (which has vegan options) plainly benefit Bill Clinton in particular and hence arguably do not constitute a legitimate part of a non-profit’s organization that is in compliance with applicable IRS provisions. Nevertheless, the Clinton Foundation refers to such spaces as “Foundation” space in the relevant provisions of the lease it has with NARA. The exact square footage is important and was set out in one document provided to NARA in tabular form as follows:
The lease itself goes into intricate details (as is typical of real estate contracts) but importantly has architect drawings colored to indicate the NARA and Foundation spaces, including the executive level (aka the massage parlor/residence on the rooftop):
By dividing up the space in this way the Clinton Foundation avoided having to pay NARA a larger endowment than they would otherwise have been required to pay if the space allocated to NARA was more than 70,000 square feet. Note, however, that the executive level has no coloring whatsoever for the space that ultimately came to be used as the Rooftop Garden. That space, according to public statements made (or authorized to be made) by the Clinton Foundation, constitutes 14,000 square feet.
Where Has MSM Been In Covering This?
There would seem to be many questions that need to be answered about how the Clinton Foundation has been operating with respect to what is ostensibly the simple, core function that the IRS initially approved for it. MSM has largely been missing in action in covering the Clinton Foundation, especially with respect to the Little Rock Library. As noted above, there has been some coverage of the issue of Clinton’s massage parlor “residence” on the top of the Library, but there has been little about the Rooftop Garden. Moreover, what little there has been obviously has repeated what effectively is promotional spin by the Clinton Foundation. Some of that spin raises more questions.
For example, in this AP report that is available on the Washington Post’s website, the overall cost of the complex is given to be $165 million.
That number is curiously close to an early estimate of the overall cost found in one of the financial statements of the Clinton Foundation, but it is obviously quite different from the numbers given to NARA or the City of Little Rock:
Incredibly, the same article reports that the Rooftop Garden is private (and note the reference in the first part of the article to what “he wanted”) and though it quotes one Clinton Foundation representative as “hoping” it will be open to visitors there is no evidence whatsoever of any such availability:
MORE TO COME BUT IN THE MEANTIME:
If you want to have a video ‘tour’ of the Rooftop Garden there are two propaganda pieces on youtube that the Clinton Foundation appears to have authorized. This one is especially amusing for the reference at about the 3:10 mark to Wind Chimes “operated by the wind.”
This one shows a miniature golf course that was apparently included: