Clinton Foundation fundraising, particularly from foreign governments, came up repeatedly at Hillary Rodham Clinton’s confirmation hearings for secretary of state. (Liam Richards/AP)
By Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger
February 25, 2015 at 8:54 PM
The Clinton Foundation accepted millions of dollars from seven foreign governments during Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, including one donation that violated its ethics agreement with the Obama administration, foundation officials disclosed Wednesday.
Most of the contributions were possible because of exceptions written into the foundation’s 2008 agreement, which included limits on foreign-government donations.
The agreement, reached before Clinton’s nomination amid concerns that countries could use foundation donations to gain favor with a Clinton-led State Department, allowed governments that had previously donated money to continue making contributions at similar levels.
The new disclosures, provided in response to questions from The Washington Post, make clear that the 2008 agreement did not prohibit foreign countries with interests before the U.S. government from giving money to the charity closely linked to the secretary of state.
In one instance, foundation officials acknowledged they should have sought approval in 2010 from the State Department ethics office, as required by the agreement for new government donors, before accepting a $500,000 donation from the Algerian government.
The money was given to assist with earthquake relief in Haiti, the foundation said. At the time, Algeria, which has sought a closer relationship with Washington, was spending heavily to lobby the State Department on human rights issues.
While the foundation has disclosed foreign-government donors for years, it has not previously detailed the donations that were accepted during Clinton’s four-year stint at the State Department.
A foundation spokesman said Wednesday that the donations all went to fund the organization’s philanthropic work around the world. In some cases, the foundation said, foreign-government donations were part of multiyear grants that had been awarded before Clinton’s appointment to pay for particular charitable efforts, such as initiatives to lower the costs of HIV and AIDs drugs and curb greenhouse gas emissions.
“As with other global charities, we rely on the support of individuals, organizations, corporations and governments who have the shared goal of addressing critical global challenges in a meaningful way,” said the spokesman, Craig Minassian. “When anyone contributes to the Clinton Foundation, it goes towards foundation programs that help save lives.”
Some of the donations came from countries with complicated diplomatic, military and financial relationships with the U.S. government, including Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.
Other nations that donated included Australia, Norway and the Dominican Republic.
The foundation presents a unique political challenge for Clinton, and one that has already become a cause of concern among Democrats as she prepares to launch an almost-certain second bid for the presidency.
Rarely, if ever, has a potential commander in chief been so closely associated with an organization that has solicited financial support from foreign governments. Clinton formally joined the foundation in 2013 after leaving the State Department, and the organization was renamed the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
The Washington Post reported last week that foreign sources, including governments, made up a third of those who have given the foundation more than $1 million over time. The Post found that the foundation, begun by former president Bill Clinton, has raised nearly $2 billion since its creation in 2001.
Foreign governments and individuals are prohibited from giving money to U.S. political candidates, to prevent outside influence over national leaders. But the foundation has given donors a way to potentially gain favor with the Clintons outside the traditional political limits.
In a presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton would be likely to showcase her foreign-policy expertise, yet the foundation’s ongoing reliance on foreign governments’ support opens a potential line of attack for Republicans eager to question her independence as secretary of state and as a possible president.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the foundation had accepted new foreign-government money now that the 2008 agreement has lapsed.
A review of foundation disclosures shows that at least two foreign governments — Germany and the United Arab Emirates — began giving in 2013 after the funding restrictions lapsed when Clinton left the Obama administration. Some foreign governments that had been supporting the foundation before Clinton was appointed, such as Saudi Arabia, did not give while she was in office and have since resumed donating.
Foundation officials said last week that if Clinton runs, they will consider taking steps to address concerns over the role of foreign donors.
“We will continue to ensure the Foundation’s policies and practices regarding support from international partners are appropriate, just as we did when she served as Secretary of State,” the foundation said in a statement.
Foreign governments had been major donors to the foundation before President Obama nominated Clinton to become secretary of state in 2009. When the foundation released a list of its donors for the first time in 2008, as a result of the agreement with the Obama administration, it disclosed, for instance, that Saudi Arabia had given between $10 million and $25 million.
In some cases, the foundation said, governments that continued to donate while Clinton was at the State Department did so at lower levels than before her appointment.
Foundation officials said Wednesday that the ethics review process required under the 2008 agreement for new donors — or for existing foreign-government donors wishing to “materially increase” their support — was never initiated during Clinton’s State Department years.
But, they added, on one occasion, it should have been.
The donation from Algeria for Haiti earthquake relief, they said, arrived without notice within days of the 2010 quake and was distributed as direct aid to assist in relief. Algeria has not donated to the foundation since, officials said.
The contribution coincided with a spike in the North African country’s lobbying visits to the State Department.
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