It was December, 2000. The Clintons were preparing to vacate the White House after a hugely successful eight-year stint. Mrs. Clinton had already secured a Senate seat in New York. The couple had purchased a stately home—with a $1.7 million price tag—in Chappaqua a year prior, as a means of establishing residence for Mrs. Clinton to allow her Senate run. But they had also just purchased a home in D.C. for $2.85 million, dropping $855,000 as a down payment. The big-money speech circuit was beckoning to Bill. Both had secured solid pensions through their past and imminent service in Federal and State government. Yet some years later, Hillary would claim that she and Bill were "dead broke" and in debt when they left the White House, a claim weirdly buttressed by unsupported stories throughout 2001 of the Clintons pillaging the White House for valuables at the time of their departure.
In reality, however, Bill Clinton had uncovered—some time in 1996—a stash of secret documents that included not only untouched and loaded Swiss accounts dating back to FDR's time, but also extensive details on the inner workings and dealings between the U.S. government, European governments, and a spate of international corporations and holding companies. And the Clintons had a plan, a plan to parlay this wealth and information into a powerful organization whose tentacles would reach around the world and provide the pair with more power and access than had been known to any leaders since the time of the Borgias. This was the genesis of the Clinton Foundation...
It would be great if this last paragraph was true, wouldn't it? Not only would it scream out for a Dan Brown kind of thriller, but it would go a long way towards explaining why the Clinton Foundation has become such a behemoth. But it's not true. The Clinton Foundation's beginnings are far more humble. It was conceived in 1997, then officially founded in 2001 after Bill Clinton left office as a 501(c)(3) corporation with the intent to bring various forces together throughput the world to meet the challenges of the world. A heady goal in one respect, but a relatively open one. Initially, it was funded by some of the money Bill Clinton was earning for speech-making and appearances, along with donations he was able to extract from both companies and individuals (particularly celebrities).
And there's nothing wrong with any of this, really. If people want to pay Clinton to speak, if they want to give money to a charitable org, that's their business. By all accounts, the Foundation has done many positive things. There's some disagreement on how much actual bang for the buck the Foundation achieves, and that's partly due to it's unusual structure and open-ended mission statement. Certainly, the Foundation is and has been footing the bill for the jet-set lifestyle of Bill Clinton and others. But it's far from the only charitable org that does this. People are free to assess it in this regard as they will.
As a vehicle for Bill Clinton's post-Presidency, the Foundation has served its purpose well. It has kept Bill relevant, has allowed him to mix with the rich and shameless freely, along with the major power-brokers and politicos throughout the world. With regard to raising money, the Foundation was very much like the University of Miami Hurricanes—the football team—recruitment program of the eighties and early nineties: there's no place it wouldn't go, no door it was afraid to open, no meeting it wouldn't have, if there was enough talent (dollar signs for the Foundation) involved. And again, good enough. If the monies of corporate cronies, despotic strongmen, and oligarchs could be pried away and used for good works, why shouldn't they? Bill Clinton's ability in this regard—to recruit donors as it were—was unmatched.
And while Hillary Clinton was a Senator, she kept herself apart from the Foundation officially and Bill went about his business, even as everyone with a clue knew that she represented yet another hook for the Foundation, something that was neither new nor unusual in D.C. politics. There's always been a bit the "wink-wink, nod-nod" at this kind of behavior. It's no different from spouses of politicians working as Capitol Hill lobbyists, business owners getting preferential treatment from politicians they supported, or big donors getting gigs as ambassadors and the like ("Pass the sweet and sour shrimp!").
But when Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State in 2009, even the enablers knew this necessitated some actions. Someone in that position can't afford to be seen parceling out favors to foreign interests, based on things like donations to a spouse's foundation, right? Accordingly, Bill promised to release lists of donors each year and to allow Federal ethics officers to evaluate donations to the Foundation from foreign governments (I don't actually know that any such evaluations have ever taken place, however).
In practice, however, these changes have amounted to almost nothing insofar as the Foundation has never experienced a serious setback in donations. Indeed, donations went through the roof in 2009, the year when Bill was supposedly putting the brakes on his fundraising, for the sake of appearances.
Now, with the Presidential race in full swing, people are questioning the specifics of donations during the period when Hillary was Secretary of State. Even a cursory look at the list of donors shows that a good number of them met with Hillary in an official capacity. E-mails show Foundation officers communicating with Hillary's assistant, specifically asking for then receiving access to Madame Secretary.
Yet legions of Hillary's and Bill's fanboys and the willing dupes in the media want everyone to ignore this, to pretend it didn't really happen the way it most assuredly did, or—if it did happen this way—it's just not that big of a deal, it's not unusual, it's the way things are done.
Maybe the last is true; it often is the way things are done. It's certainly the way things were done in the age of machine politics. It's likely the way things are done under throwbacks like Chris Christie. And it's often the way things are done under governments that lack democratic processes and power-limiting documents like constitutions. And to be fair, it also can be the way things are done under the latter as well, though when that's the case, there are two caveats: 1) it's never done so openly and explicitly; people have the good sense to obscure their skulduggery, and 2) when they don't and they get caught, they usually get burned down.
Herein lies the true greatness (?) of the Clintons: ultimately, they're unbelievably brazen (especially Bill). They trust their water-carriers—and Bill's charm—to defend them and are unafraid to put to the light of day what is usually carefully hidden.
Think about it for a moment. Agents of foreign governments (or multinational corporations) donate money to a family, then are granted audiences to a member of that family in power, who then provides support or favors to the foreign government. That's not even quid pro quo, it's a simple system of patronage common in monarchies and aristocracies of the past, the kind of governments that the founders of the United States were fleeing from, the kind of system they were specifically trying to prevent with the Constitution. Granted, preventing this in toto was never going to happen, but at the very least it wasn't supposed to be a systematic feature of the Federal government. But that's exactly what it became while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.
Through it all, the principals (Bill and Hillary) stand fast, deny every accusation, challenge naysayers to prove malfeasance, and continue to pump the scheme. As I said, this is hard work, and takes serious gumption. In this respect, one can only stand back and admire the game and the gamemasters.