Foreign Government Gifts to Clinton Foundation on the Rise
Donations raise ethical questions as Hillary Clinton ramps up expected 2016 bid
Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton address the Clinton Global Initiative in New York in September 2014. ENLARGE
Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton address the Clinton Global Initiative in New York in September 2014. Photo: European Pressphoto Agency
James V. Grimaldi And
Updated Feb. 17, 2015 11:05 p.m. ET
The Clinton Foundation has dropped its self-imposed ban on collecting funds from foreign governments and is winning contributions at an accelerating rate, raising ethical questions as Hillary Clinton ramps up her expected bid for the presidency.
Recent donors include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Australia, Germany and a Canadian government agency promoting the Keystone XL pipeline.
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In 2009, the Clinton Foundation stopped raising money from foreign governments after Mrs. Clinton became secretary of state. Former President Bill Clinton, who ran the foundation while his wife was at the State Department, agreed to the gift ban at the behest of the Obama administration, which worried about a secretary of state’s husband raising millions while she represented U.S. interests abroad.
The ban wasn’t absolute; some foreign government donations were permitted for ongoing programs approved by State Department ethics officials.
The donations come as Mrs. Clinton prepares for an expected run for the Democratic nomination for president, and they raise many of the same ethical quandaries. Since leaving the State Department in early 2013, Mrs. Clinton officially joined the foundation, which changed its name to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, and has become a prodigious fundraiser as the foundation launched a $250 million endowment campaign, officials said.
A representative for Hillary Clinton referred all questions to the Clinton Foundation.
A spokesman for the Clinton Foundation said the charity has a need to raise money for its many projects, which aim to do such things as improve education, health care and the environment around the world. He also said that donors go through a vigorous vetting process.
One of the 2014 donations comes from a Canadian agency promoting the proposed Keystone pipeline, which is favored by Republicans and under review by the Obama administration. The Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development agency of Canada, a first-time donor, gave between $250,000 and $500,000. The donations, which are disclosed voluntarily by the foundation, are given only in ranges.
One of the agency’s priorities for 2014-2015 was to promote Keystone XL “as a stable and secure source of energy and energy technology,” according to the agency’s website. Mrs. Clinton’s State Department was involved in approving the U.S. government’s initial environmental-impact statement. Since leaving State, Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly declined to comment on Keystone.
The Canadian donation originated from an agency office separate from the one that advocates for Keystone XL, a Foundation spokesman said.
While the Canadian donation didn’t appear in a Clinton Foundation online database of donors until recently, the donation of about $480,000 was announced in June in Cartagena, Colombia, where the program provides job training for youths.
Kirk Hanson, director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in California, said the Clintons should immediately reimpose the ban, for the same reasons it was in place while Mrs. Clinton led U.S. foreign policy.
“Now that she is gearing up to run for president, the same potential exists for foreign governments to curry favor with her as a potential president of the United States,” he said.
If she becomes president and deals with these nations, “she can’t recuse herself,” added James Thurber, director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. “Whether it influences her decision making is questionable, but it is a legitimate thing to focus on by her political opposition.”
The donations weren’t announced by the foundation and were discovered by The Wall Street Journal during a search of donations of more than $50,000 posted on the foundation’s online database. Exactly when the website was updated isn’t clear. The foundation typically updates its website with the previous year’s donations near the beginning of the year. All 2014 donations were noted with asterisks.
At least four foreign countries gave to the foundation in 2013—Norway, Italy, Australia and the Netherlands—a fact that has garnered little attention. The number of governments contributing in 2014 appears to have doubled from the previous year. Since its founding, the foundation has raised at least $48 million from overseas governments, according to a Journal tally.
United Arab Emirates, a first-time donor, gave between $1 million and $5 million in 2014, and the German government—which also hadn’t previously given—contributed between $100,000 and $250,000.
A previous donor, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has given between $10 million and $25 million since the foundation was created in 1999. Part of that came in 2014, although the database doesn’t specify how much.
The Australian government has given between $5 million and $10 million, at least part of which came in 2014. It also gave in 2013, when its donations fell in the same range.
Qatar’s government committee preparing for the 2022 soccer World Cup gave between $250,000 and $500,000 in 2014. Qatar’s government had previously donated between $1 million and $5 million.
Oman, which had made a donation previously, gave an undisclosed amount in 2014. Over time, Oman has given the foundation between $1 million and $5 million. Prior to last year, its donations fell in the same range.
The Clinton Foundation has set a goal of creating a $250 million endowment, an official said. One purpose was secure the future of the foundation’s programs without having to rely so much on the former president’s personal fundraising efforts, the official said.
The Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman donations went to the endowment drive.
Write to James V. Grimaldi at James.Grimaldi@wsj.com