The Clinton Foundation, the family philanthropy of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, should shut down or transfer operations to another charity despite its good work to avoid perceptions of "pay-for-play," The Washington Post and USA Today said in editorials on Wednesday.
Despite plans announced earlier this week to reorganize the Clinton Foundation if Hillary Clinton wins the Nov. 8 election, USA Today said the global charity must close for the Democratic candidate to avoid any appearance of unethical ties.
"The only way to eliminate the odor surrounding the foundation is to wind it down and put it in mothballs, starting today, and transfer its important charitable work to another large American charity such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation," the paper's editorial board wrote.
The Gates Foundation declined to share its thoughts on the idea. "We really can't speculate about the future of the Clinton Foundation," Amy Enright, a Gates Foundation spokeswoman, wrote in an email.
The newspaper also published an editorial by Donna Shalala, the Clinton Foundation's president, in which she argued that the foundation helps millions of people, especially in developing countries, and so scaling down its work was not simple.
"This suggestion ignores how global philanthropy works, and the reality that there are human beings around the world who would be affected by these decisions," Shalala wrote.
The foundation announced on Monday that it would stop accepting at least some foreign and corporate donations if Clinton wins the presidency and that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, would resign from the foundation's board.
The Washington Post said in its editorial that these changes were insufficient and should have happened sooner, before Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.
"The foundation undoubtedly does worthwhile work," the Post's editorial board wrote. "Should Ms. Clinton win, all of that work and all of the foundation's assets should be spun off to an organization with no ties to the first family." The Clintons' daughter, Chelsea Clinton, remains on the board of the charity, the full name of which is the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
The call from two leading U.S. news organizations came as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and other members of his party have taken to calling for a special prosecutor to investigate what they say is corruption. The Clinton campaign has dismissed such calls as groundless political smears.
Republicans see attacking Clinton over the organization as a way of unifying conservatives divided over Trump, who has never held elected officer and who often deviates from conservative orthodoxy.
Democrats hope the controversy comes too late to make a difference in the election, in which most national public opinion polls show Clinton ahead.
The foundation has said Hillary Clinton was not involved with the group while serving as the nation's top diplomat. The Clinton campaign denies Clinton ever took any action because of donations to the foundation.
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook told MSNBC on Wednesday that Clinton does not have a conflict of interest with charitable work, and pointed to her rival's business interests with Wall Street, China and Russia.
"Donald Trump and his bottom line and his networks are directly connected to all kinds of international entities ... and nobody's asking him to disclose or divest," Mook said of the New York businessman. Trump has responded by saying it is Clinton, not he, who has close ties to Russia.
Late Wednesday, former President Bill Clinton said that he's proud of people who have donated to the Clinton Foundation and the work the organization has done.
"We're trying to do good things," Bill Clinton said. "If there's something wrong with creating jobs and saving lives, I don't know what it is. The people who gave the money knew exactly what they were doing. I have nothing to say about it except that I'm really proud. I'm proud of what they've done."
He also defended Hillary Clinton's contact with donors to the foundation while serving as secretary of state, saying foundation donors like Bangladeshi economist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus have no trouble reaching officials around the world.
An Associated Press report Tuesday found more than half of the non-government officials who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money to the Clinton Foundation.
The meetings between Clinton, now the Democratic presidential nominee, and foundation donors don't appear to violate legal agreements both Clintons signed before she joined the State Department in 2009. State Department officials have said they are unaware of any agency actions influenced by the foundation.
Yet the frequency of the overlaps shows the mixing of access and donations. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has criticized the links between the foundation and the State Department, accusing the Clintons of establishing "a business to profit from public office."
Bill Clinton said changes at the foundation are needed if Hillary Clinton becomes president that weren't necessary when she led the State Department. The foundation won't accept foreign donations, and he will stop personally raising money for the foundation, he said.
"We'll have to do more than when she was secretary of state, because if you make a mistake there's always appeal to the White House if you're secretary of state," Clinton said. "If you're president, you can't."
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