The Clinton Foundation is back in the news because of the possibility that donors got special access to the Secretary of State, which has always struck me as the least-interesting argument for why the foundation is a problem. If a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire wants to get a meeting with somebody high up in Washington because he’s got a favor he needs done, he’s going to figure out a way to get the meeting. And if the favor is innocuous, or somewhat nocuous but unlikely to be noticed, he’s going to get the favor done. Anybody who thinks otherwise, or that there is any meaningful difference between the parties on this score, is dreaming.
No, the Clinton Foundation has been called a shakedown racket because it wasn’t trading access for donations — it was going to people who were already going to get access, and asking them to pay a toll for it.
Is that a problem? Well, that depends on how you feel about a former President and a hopeful future President creating an organization with their name on it, hobnobbing with the rich and famous all over the world on the organization’s dime, having the organization hire their relatives and long-time aides — and having the organization be a charity.
That, when I think about it, is what sticks in my craw. If the Clinton Foundation were Clinton Associates, a Washington consultancy that advised global solutionizers on how to optimize their solutionizing, and they hired a bunch of relatives and long-time aides, traveled all over the place optimizing the hell out of everybody’s solutionizing, and made it understood that it would be a good idea to hire them for at least some of your solutionizing needs if you plan on doing lots of business in Washington, that would be . . . pretty much par for the course.
But because it’s a charity, and because what Bill, Hillary and Chelsea do for that charity looks precious little like what Jimmy Carter does for Habitat for Humanity, it just makes me feel a little disgusted.
Is that reasonable? I’m not sure. There’s something disturbing about concluding that I’d be less upset if it were a for-profit venture blatantly trading on the Clintons’ access. Wouldn’t I rather they at least put their vanity in the service of a worthy cause? Am I unaware that the game in big-time philanthropy is all about figuring out how to shake down super-rich people for big donations? What’s my problem?
But reasonable or not, it’s how I feel. There’s something just plain gross about oleaginous self-branding on this scale. It’s almost . . . Trumpian.
Of course, if it were the Trump Foundation, they wouldn’t actually raise any money, or make any grants at all. But still.