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Clinton foundations - ripoff or legit?

by Tim Isbell, August 16, 2016

First off, I'd better clarify the title. The Clintons have two foundations. The big one that gets most of the press and criticism is the Clinton Foundation. "It largely engages in traditional non-profit work around the world, covering issues like global health and climate change. The Clinton Foundation also works as a matchmaker, securing pledges not for itself, but to foster partnerships to tackle various problems. The foundation, too, is a steward for Bill Clinton's presidential legacy. In 2014, the Clinton Foundation's consolidated expenses totaled nearly $250 million.

"The smaller one is the Clinton Family Foundation, a traditional private foundation that serves as the vehicle for the couple's personal charitable giving." For more on these two foundations, check out The Other Clinton Foundation: a look at Bill & Hillary's Personal Philanthropy. The quotes above are from this article.

In August 2016 I stumbled into a Facebook stream that I thought was posted by an acquaintance of mine. But after diving in I realized it was Mike Huckabee sharing this link from the Conservative Tribune: SHOCK: 96% Of Hillary’s Charitable Donations Went To 1 “Charity.” Over the course of about three days, I did quite a bit of writing in that thread, generally to the dismay of many of the other participants. This web page you are now on contains some of my posts to that thread. I'll start with my last post:

My last post to the Huckabee Facebook post:

I've read through a lot of your criticisms about Hillary's charitable donations. My conclusion: most posts are from people who don't understand charitable donations, in particular through foundations. I'm no expert on foundations, either, but once Hillary, Bill, or anyone else puts money into one, it can never come back to them - or to their estate (their heirs after they die). Those who run the foundation must spend it for the charitable purposes described in the mission. Here's the Clinton Foundation stated mission (straight from the foundation's website): "We convene businesses, governments, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), 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." 

The Clinton Foundation is not a pass-through charity where the charity serves as an aggregator for donations that it then distributes to other charities to do good things - though it does point donors to other charities/foundations. It is a charity that does good things itself - think Gates Foundation or the Carter Center. Of course, the Clintons use some of this foundation money for their own their personal expenses - but they can only do this for their work on foundation business.

Third party organizations, such as, analyze foundations like this one, and they give the Clinton Foundation an A rating. Their analysis might miss some things, but they're almost sure to identify significant corruption. Repeatedly writing about how the Clinton Foundation is a rip-off, doesn't make it so.

Over the past several years Hillary/Bill donated about 10.5% of their income to charity, and yes, the vast majority went to their foundations. Wouldn't it look silly if they developed the Clinton Foundation, solicited money from around the world, and yet their personal charity went mostly somewhere else! 

Hillary Clinton invested most of her adult life, starting way back in college when she was not at all rich, to public service. If she loses the election it's quite obvious what she'll do: continue to do public service. It's what she did when Bill's presidency ended. It's what she did when she lost to Obama in 2008. If she loses this November, I'll bet that she'll give her life and energy to public service in the areas described in the Clinton Foundation mission. It's just who she is.

I've written quite a bit on this thread over the past three days or so, but nothing about Donald Trump. So here's a little: it's hard to miss that we haven't heard much of anything about Donald Trump's donations to anything. Hopefully, we'll see this when he reveals his tax forms. If I'm missing the same quality of data on Trump's charity that I've pointed out on the Clintons, please send it to me.

Finally, some wisdom from Mark Twain: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." A lot of people are very sure of things that "just ain't so."

I'll leave it at that. My guess is that you've all heard quite enough from me.

Some of my earlier posts to the thread:

You will find some redundancy between my last post (above) and the posts summarized below. Sorry about that, it's just the nature of a long social media thread.

To many who complain that almost all Clinton charity goes to their own foundation- 

Most of my charitable giving goes to one place, too. And for many years I was the leader of that charity. I gave it because I believed in the organization and its mission - and to set a model for other donors. I still believe in that church, am a full participant in it right now, and it's still the charity where the bulk of our donations go. 

The Clinton Foundation addresses a broad range of critical issues. I'd be disappointed in Hillary if she founded a charitable donation and didn't support it with the bulk of her donations. I see it as an honorable thing - she's donating both money and time/energy in the mission. Good for her.

To many who claimed that Hillary's foundations only spend 10-15% on charitable work- 

The amount of money attributed to "administration" in a charity depends on the nature of the charity. I'm most familiar with local Christian churches (I pastored one for 18 years before retiring in 2010). The biggest two expenditures of a local church are staff salaries and facilities (rent or debt service, repairs and maintenance, utilities, etc.). These two comprise well over half. Depending on what portions of these you count as administrative and overhead you can make any local church look very bad or splendid. A church is not in business primarily to pass donations through to other charities so they can do the work, though churches do some of this by supporting local compassion, global missions, educational ministries, and so on. Churches exist primarily to do ministry, not just to support others who do ministry. A healthy church may pass 10-15% of its donations to other charities, but they spend the rest on ministry. 

From my cursory look at the Clinton Foundation's website and the independent Charity Watch website, I suspect some of the same dynamics are at play.

To the many who criticized the operation of her foundations-

Suppose for a minute that you have a heart for building culture suitable for a broad range of people. You are willing to invest your time and a good chunk of your money. And assume you have the network and skills to raise funds from others who share your mission interest. Just suppose.

Don't we want such people to start foundations to build a healthy culture here and around the world? Isn't this valuable enough to let them do it with pretax dollars? Personally, I think it's a bargain for governments when some constituents have this capacity and mindset - whether they do it through a foundation with global reach or a local church. Sure, there's potential for financial abuse, and when it happens on any large scale it usually makes the news and somebody gets in legal trouble. But in most non-profits, people pour in countless volunteer hours - that's certainly true in churches - multiplying the impact of donated dollars.

I'll also point out that we need the free press and our tax/legal system to hold such organizations accountable, which happens in the US better than in other countries. Despite the skeptics, the relative fairness of the US legal system, along with the free press is largely the reason foreign money is confident enough to invest huge quantities in the US, and purchase our debt at remarkably low interest rates.

To two Christian women passionate about abortion, which keeps them from considering Hillary-

Conservative Christian traditions are against abortion; liberal ones accept it. I'm conservative on this issue, but I don't expect a secular, pluralistic country to adopt all my moral my views. Beyond that, I'm not a one-issue voter.

If you have time, please have a look at my 2016 Political Primer - Especially the second half. 

Maybe I should add: I consider any tradition that confesses the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed as a brother or sister in the faith. So, while I'm somewhat conservative on some issues including abortion, I don't expect our country to enforce an anti-abortion law on everyone. So, I'm okay if the country leaves the abortion decision to the mother. It would be a travesty if it were left only to the father. Of course, the mother should have at least 51% of the vote.

Hillary grew up and remains a Methodist. It is a rather liberal Christian tradition which accepts abortion. But there's much more to Christian faith than its position on abortion.

For instance: A big reason why I like Hillary is her long history of work with under-resourced people, especially including children. And I'm also impressed with her perspective on the problem of unbalanced wealth in the US. From the very beginning, Christian faith taught people to give preferential treatment to the poor and needy. It was a core message of Jesus. And it's in the teaching and DNA of authentic Christians throughout history. Hillary's life, and current platform, strongly supports this area, which is a core principle of Christian issue.

To many who call Hillary a liar-

Many posts in this Facebook thread were vicious on this item. Check out Kristoff's article in the NYT: Clinton's Fibs vs. Trump's Huge Lies. His assessment is that Clinton's truthfulness is on par with previous presidential candidates, while Trump's are off the charts in the untruth direction. 

To a Christian woman who dislikes Hillary, especially for her tolerance for abortion, but recently feels prompted to pray for Hillary-

A few weeks ago I noticed a parallel in my own life and began praying for Donald Trump and his family. Hillary and Bill knew what they were getting into when she signed up for this presidential run. I doubt that Donald Trump and his family had any idea what they'd face. 

I don't like abortion either. As I understand Hillary, she doesn't like it either. I don't expect that anybody likes abortion, nor wishes it on their family. But it's a different thing to enforce an anti-abortion position on everyone. 

Hillary grew up in a difficult home because of a difficult dad. Her mom was a Methodist. Hillary's early "call" to public service came through her Methodist youth pastor's teaching. She began to implement it in caring for the needy while she was in college, years before she had access to any significant financial resources. She has remained on the public service road throughout her entire life. When she lost to Obama in 2008, she didn't take a long vacation. She served as Obama's Secretary of State. If she loses this year, I'm sure she'll pick herself up and get to work doing public service through the foundations. 

I've read that her State department staff says she carried and read her Bible through her travels as Secretary of State. If you listen to her speak for long, especially when she's speaking from her heart, she often includes some version of this quote, "Do all the good you can, whenever you can, wherever you can, to all the people you can, for as long as you ever can." It's from John Wesley (founder of the Methodist tradition in England in the 1700's). To get a feel for her life story check out this CNN interview with Carl Bernstein (her biographer): Who is Hillary?


While I was interacting with Huckabee's Facebook thread I had no intention to publish this web page. The people in the thread were generally hostile to Hillary. Naturally, they spread some of that hostility to me. Along the way, a handful of people were courageous and inquisitive enough to affirm and ask good questions. These kept me "in the game." Eventually, I figured it was time to exit the thread, and a few hours later it occurred to me to pull together my posts and publish them here. Hope you find them helpful. Feel free to contact me.

Oh, yes. I suppose I should answer the question posed by the title of this piece. I'd say the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Family Foundations are legit.

Followup Forbes article

I posted this web page on April 16, 2016. Then on August 27, Forbes printed this confirming article: What Bill & Hillary Clinton's Controversial Charity Realy Does. It is obvious that this philanthropic work by the Clintons is a very well-respected charity with worldwide reach - deserving high regard as opposed to cynical criticism.



For a list of all my posts on the run-up to the 2016 presidential election click on Politics 2016.

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