Friday, December 26, 2008

Questions we'll probably never get the answer to

Martin Peretz has been perusing the list of donors to the Clinton Foundation. Besides the names that have made the headline such as the government of Saudi Arabia and other foreign countries, there are quite a few other donations that make you scratch your head a bit. If you're a donor to one of the following groups or institutions, it might make you wonder that they're turning around and then donating to Clinton's foundation.
What was the purpose of a contribution by the National Opera of Paris? Or of hospitals themselves in strained circumstances, like Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn and Arkansas Children's Hospital?

The University of Cambridge and Liverpool University in the United Kingdom threw into the pot from the other side of the pond. American universities like Tufts, Columbia, Georgetown, Iowa State, Texas, Brown, Rensselaer Polytechnic, UCLA and its school of public health all gave, plus the University of Judaism with a whopping sum between $100,000 and $250,000. (Is Bill Clinton now supporting studies in theology?) Do these educational institutions have such deep pockets to share with Bill Clinton's ego?

On the donor list are also the names of the charities we all give to generically: Human Rights Watch (well, not me), Feed the Children, and the Hunger Project. The foundation also receives funding from the International Bank for Recovery and Development of the World Bank, and the World Health Organization. They have their own, far-reaching projects. Why would they give cash to charitable work for which Mr. Clinton is at most a matchmaker?

There's a certain looseness here that spreads downwards: District 1199 of the Service Employees International Union gave old comrade Bill somewhere in the range of half a million bucks. And then spreads upwards, so to speak: Citi gave him from $1 million to $5 million. Perhaps Citi's gift was just a pledge. In that case, is Treasury now paying up?
The list of donors doesn't have dates attached so we don't know if the foreign nations started donating while Clinton was still in office since he began accepting donations in 1997. That might explain Saudi Arabia's donation from $10 to $25 million. But what about some of these other countries?
What we now know is that Mr. Clinton was indiscriminating when it came to accepting cash from all sorts of countries. He took money from poor countries like Jamaica, and more prosperous countries like Italy. He dipped into the Irish Aid Fund and the Swedish Postal Lottery for big money, and for small money from the Social Economic Council of the Netherlands. And then there was an especially strange source from which he schnorrered: Citgo, Hugo Chávez's oil company. Even if the revolucion didn't gain points for this, it is unseemly for an American president to ask the energy company of the Venezuelan dictatorship for spare cash.
Did they donate while he was still president or while his wife was running for president? It's all a bit iffy, especially with his wife poised to be Secretary of State. Aren't there other foundations out there that fight AIDS, climate change, or fund microfinance projects? Don't many of these groups, like the United Way for instance, have their own projects to give to? Aren't there any Swedish or Dutch charities that those countries' organizations could donate to? If we get uncomfortable about a foreign country's gifts of jewelry to Condoleezza Rice or Laura Bush and require them to turn the gifts over, what about the husband of the Secretary of State receiving all sorts of donations to his foundation? If we have decided that we don't really fear any shenanigans resulting from such donations, then why have all these laws about campaign finance? The whole premise is that any sort of gift could be corrupting to a public official. If we're going to say that it's not a problem and we have faith that the Clintons can separate out the donations from her public actions as a senator or Secretary of State, then why all the hoo-ha over political donations? Either money is corrupting or it isn't.