For all of its successes, the Clinton Foundation had become a sprawling concern, supervised by a rotating board of old Clinton hands, vulnerable to distraction and threatened by conflicts of interest. It ran multimillion-dollar deficits for several years, despite vast amounts of money flowing in.Over a year ago Bill Clinton met with some aides and lawyers to review the Foundation's progress and concluded that it was a mess. Well, many political start-ups can be, especially when their sole selling point is the big name of their founder (the queues are short at the Dan Quayle Vice Presidential Learning Center). But what complicated this review – what made its findings more politically devastating – is that the Clinton Foundation has become about more than just Bill. Now both daughter Chelsea and wife, and likely presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton have taken on major roles and, in the words of the NYT "efforts to insulate the foundation from potential conflicts have highlighted just how difficult it can be to disentangle the Clintons’ charity work from Mr Clinton’s moneymaking ventures and Mrs Clinton’s political future." Oh, they're entangled alright.
The NYT runs the scoop in its usual balanced, inoffensive way – but the problem jumps right off the page. The Clintons have never been able to separate the impulses to help others and to help themselves, turning noble philanthropic ventures into glitzy, costly promos for some future campaign (can you remember a time in human history when a Clinton wasn't running for office?). And their "Ain't I Great?!" ethos attracts the rich and powerful with such naked abandon that it ends up compromising whatever moral crusade they happen to have endorsed that month. That the Clinton Global Initiative is alleged to have bought Natalie Portman a first-class ticket for her and her dog to attend an event in 2009 is the tip of the iceberg. More troubling is that businessmen have been able to expand the profile of their companies by working generously alongside the Clinton Foundation. From the NYT:
Last year, Coca-Cola’s chief executive, Muhtar Kent, won a coveted spot on the dais with Mr. Clinton, discussing the company’s partnership with another nonprofit to use its distributors to deliver medical goods to patients in Africa. (A Coca-Cola spokesman said that the company’s sponsorship of foundation initiatives long predated Teneo and that the firm plays no role in Coca-Cola’s foundation work.)This is typical Clinton stuff. The second thing I ever wrote for this website was about how corporations invest in politicians as a way of building their brand and raising their stock price. It can lead to some funny partnerships. This, from 2011:
In March 2012, David Crane, the chief executive of NRG, an energy company, led a widely publicized trip with Mr. Clinton to Haiti, where they toured green energy and solar power projects that NRG finances through a $1 million commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative.
Just this month, bedding manufacturer Serta announced that it will be sponsoring Bill Clinton’s keynote address to an industry conference in August. "To us,"’ said the head of the company, "Clinton represents leadership. This appearance shows Serta is a leader and is taking a leadership position. This singles us out." Some might say that it is beneath a former president to basically endorse Serta’s new "Perfect Sleeper" line, even with its "revolutionary gel foam mattress".The cynical might infer from the NYT piece that the Clintons are willing to sell themselves, their image, and even their Foundation's reputation in exchange for money to finance their personal projects. In Bill's case, saving the world. In Hillary's case, maybe, running for president.
It's nothing new to report that there's an unhealthy relationship in America between money and politics, but it's there all the same. While the little people are getting hit with Obamacare, high taxes and joblessness, a class of businessmen enjoys ready access to politicians of both Left and Right that poses troubling questions for how the republic can continue to call itself a democracy so long as it functions as an aristocracy of the monied. Part of the reason why America's elites get away with it is becuase they employ such fantastic salesmen. For too long now, Bill Clinton has pitched himself, almost without question, as a homespun populist: the Boy from Hope. The reality is that this is a man who – in May 1993 – prevented other planes from landing at LAX for 90 minues while he got a haircut from a Beverley Hills hairdresser aboard Air Force One. The Clintons are populists in the same way that Barack Obama is a Nobel prize winner. Oh, wait…