When I heard that Bill Clinton was making as much as $500,000 per speech and made many more millions in his post-presidency, I thought to myself, God bless him. This is the American way.
Former President Clinton’s speaker fees are probably in line with other former presidents who draw big fees, maybe bigger owing to his global popularity.
But God bless them all.
Business and organizations love to rub shoulders with iconic American leaders — though the money Clinton has earned is probably a fraction of what President George H.W. Bush made by signing up with The Carlyle Group, an international conglomerate that made most of its initial money from U.S. defense contracts and from foreign countries like Saudi Arabia.
The elder Bush served his country admirably over a long period, starting in World War II as a heroic pilot, and later in several public offices, including the presidency. He later got his reward after leaving the White House.
God bless George H.W. Bush.
So, it is not every day that I defend Bill and Hillary Clinton, or the Clinton Foundation.
In fact, it may come as a surprise to some. In the 1990s I was described by both James Carville and George Stephanopoulos as the Clinton White House’s No. 1 press enemy. But after Bill Clinton left the White House, I came to admire him and his post-presidential work.
I was drawn to him largely for the very same reason he and his wife are being criticized today: the Clinton Foundation. Over time, I was impressed enough with its work that I even became a donor.
This may be difficult for many of the Clinton critics to stomach, considering the miasma of allegations now being made about them, largely due to a new book entitled "Clinton Cash" (HarperCollins) by Peter Schweizer.
A Fox News special that aired this past Friday detailed many of the allegations from the still-unreleased book. Fox said the book showed the "tangled" and "blurred" relationships between the Clinton Foundation and the Clintons' private or political activities.
After watching the Fox program, it became clear to me the only thing "tangled" and "blurred" are the numerous unsubstantiated, unconnected, and baseless allegations being made about them.
John Cassidy, a columnist with The New Yorker, fair-minded and balanced, got it right when he wrote that "Clinton Cash" appears to contain "largely unsubstantiated allegations."
He notes that Schweizer admits he cannot prove the allegations, and that "with [Fox News' Sean] Hannity and other conservative media figures piling on, the Clinton campaign will be able to portray questions about the Clinton Foundation and the family’s finances as a political witch-hunt rather than a legitimate exercise in vetting presidential candidates."
Even Bill O'Reilly, who has a penchant for telling the truth, told his Fox audience that the Clintons deserved the "presumption of innocence" and that "right now the evidence is circumstantial, not vetted, and the subject of wild speculation by anti-Clinton forces."
Don’t get me wrong, if there were any serious allegations here, I too would want to have them investigated. But I also don’t want to go back to the '90s, either, when one allegation led to a daisy-chain effect, and the GOP ended up looking bad as the Democrats kept winning.
But let’s get back to the matter of the Clintons and their foundation. I have been involved with the foundation for over seven years now. During that time, I have always found it nonpartisan. I have never felt the whiff of politics from either its staff or any of its activities.
I recall attending my first Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) event and meeting Jack Kemp there. As you may remember, Kemp had run against Bill Clinton in the 1996 presidential race as the vice presidential candidate. At that meeting, Kemp had nothing but praise for what Bill Clinton was doing.
So what was the former president doing?
Rather than simply "cashing in," the young former president wanted to devote a substantial amount of his time and energy to making the world a better place, improving the lives of poor people and, at the same time, demonstrating in a real way that Americans cared.
Remember also the context of the time. America was globally criticized during its war on terror, especially after the invasion of Iraq. Few nations joined the "coalition of the willing." Our nation was losing its stature as leader of the free world.
It was Bill Clinton, using the platform of his foundation, who became the de facto goodwill ambassador of the United States.
I know for a fact that then-President Bush was deeply appreciative of Bill Clinton's help during this period. Let’s not forget that it was George W. Bush who had so much confidence in Bill Clinton that he asked him to co-chair with his dad, Bush 41, both the Tsunami and Katrina relief efforts. (Later, Obama personally asked Bill Clinton to co-chair the Haiti relief effort.)
Compare for a second how Bill Clinton has continued to serve America's best interests abroad with former President Jimmy Carter, who has not always done so.
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What about all that foundation money? Well, let’s peel the onion on the accusations.
One of the things I liked about the Clinton Foundation is how little money actually goes to the foundation itself.
Ingeniously, Bill Clinton set up his annual foundation conclave, CGI, as a clearinghouse between other foundations, wealthy donors, NGOs, governments and businesses — to meet face-to-face with charities working on the front lines of poverty alleviation, education and healthcare.
At CGI, the Clinton Foundation doesn’t encourage donations to itself (though it easily could have), but instead seeks "commitments" from donors to other charitable organizations to improve global health and wellness, increase economic opportunities for women in less-developed nations, reduce childhood obesity, and spur economic growth in countries that desperately need the help.
After those commitments are made, no money flows into the Clinton Foundation. Donors honor their pledges directly with the charities.
Over 10 years, CGI meetings have resulted in more than 3,100 commitments to action, deploying more than $100 billion which has been used to improve the lives of more than 430 million people in 180 countries around the world.
The effects of these commitments and the impact of the Clinton Foundation’s other initiatives have been enormous. For example, some 85,000 small farmers in Africa have increased their crop yields, creating economic vitality for themselves and their communities while helping to feed the continent.
Of course, where the foundation sees a pressing need it seeks to address that need directly using foundation money, staff, and resources.
Back in the '90s AIDS reached epidemic levels in Africa, set to wipe out millions. Governments seemed indifferent, as were many in the medical and pharmaceutical establishment — until Bill Clinton got involved.
He personally convinced the big pharmaceutical companies to greatly reduce their prices and disseminate their drugs widely to combat the crisis. But he didn't stop there. His foundation set up its own clinics for HIV testing and prevention education.
Probably because of this track record, no one is really questioning the actual work of the foundation. Instead, the accusations argue that the Clintons engaged in quid pro quo transactions — raising foundation money while Hillary allegedly gave favorable treatment to the donors through her position as chief of the State Department.
One claim is that to help a major donor to the foundation, Hillary as secretary of state, changed her position and supported the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which was ratified in 2011.
In another instance, again to help the same donor, the U.S. government agreed to give a Russian company ownership of Uranium One, a firm which controls approximately 20 percent of the uranium mines in the U.S.
Knowing a bit how this administration works, it is preposterous to think that President Obama or his White House approved any deal to benefit the Clinton Foundation or one of its donors.
In the case of Colombia, it had made tremendous strides in improving its human rights situation during the period Hillary Clinton changed her position. And, as it turned out, the Clinton donor had sold out his stake in Uranium One years before the Russians bought the company.
Importantly, The New York Times reported that no less than nine federal agencies and officials including the Defense, Treasury and Energy Departments, as well as the White House, had to approve the Uranium One deal.
Jose Fernandez, who held the position of the department's principal representative on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviewed the sale, told The Wall Street Journal: "Secretary Clinton never intervened with me on any CFIUS matter."
Well, if there’s smoke — there’s fire? Perhaps it’s better to say, Where there’s smear, there’s not always fact.
I think the imperative for journalists is more appropriate: Follow the money. So let’s do that.
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The sister companies of News Corp and 21st Century Fox own HarperCollins, which published Peter Schweizer’s book; they own The Wall Street Journal, which first raised the issue of the foreign donations; they own the New York Post, which broke the details about the Schweizer book; and they own Fox News, which gave the story oxygen and legs.
With so much media mojo from one company, there is no doubt they will be doing some pretty good "cashing in" from the many millions of dollars their new best-seller will generate.
Nothing wrong with that, it's the American way.
And yes, God bless them too!
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