Published January 13, 2009
WASHINGTON -- Hillary Rodham Clinton, President-elect Barack Obama's choice for secretary of state, rejected calls Tuesday for more details about donors to her husband's foundation, saying she has revealed enough to avoid even the hint of conflicts. An Associated Press review found that Clinton stepped in at least a half-dozen times on issues involving businesses and others who later gave to the charity.
Clinton said as secretary of state she will not be influenced to act on behalf of her husband's contributors, which include foreign governments.
"It will not be in the atmosphere," Clinton said.
Richard Lugar of Indiana was among GOP senators on the Foreign Relations Committee pressing for full transparency about contributors to the William J. Clinton Foundation and one of its main projects, the Clinton Global Initiative.
Under an agreement with Obama, Bill Clinton recently released the names of donors to his foundation, a nonprofit that has raised at least $492 million -- including millions from Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments -- to fund his library in Arkansas and charitable efforts worldwide on such issues as AIDS, poverty and climate change. He pledged to release similar information annually. The donor list doesn't provide exact amounts, background on donors such as their employers, or the dates of donations.
Lugar, the committee's top Republican, urged Hillary Clinton to immediately disclose donations of $50,000 or more; alert ethics officials when any gift of that size is pledged or given by a foreign entity, whether an overseas government, individual or business; and reveal the year a donation was made and the amount, or at least the range, of a donor's giving in that year.
Revealing pledges is particularly important, Lugar said: "So if we're going to have an argument it happens right then, and therefore if it's not a good idea, that it's stopped and the compromise for the State Department, for foreign policy, for you is prevented as rapidly as possible, within days rather than in months or in years."
Clinton noted that under the agreement, foreign government pledges will be submitted to the State Department for review. She said it was unprecedented for a former president to agree to the disclosure her husband has, and that she was confident the current arrangement would avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest.
"I don't know who will be giving money. That will not influence," Clinton said. "When the disclosure occurs, obviously it will be after the fact, so it would be hard to make an argument that it influenced anybody because we didn't know about it."
The AP reported Tuesday that Clinton intervened at least six times in government issues directly affecting companies and others that later contributed to her husband's foundation. The AP obtained three pieces of the correspondence under the Freedom of Information Act.
The letters and donations involve pharmaceutical companies and telecommunications and energy interests. An aide to the senator said she made no secret of her involvement in many of the issues. Bill Clinton's foundation declined to say when it received the donations or precisely how much was contributed.
"Throughout her tenure, Senator Clinton has proven that she acts solely based on what she believes is best for the state and people she represents, without consideration to any other factor," said spokesman Philippe Reines. "In these instances, she was doing what the people of New York elected her to do: Work hard on the issues of importance to them."
Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation both declined to answer questions about whether the senator tried to step away from issues directly affecting donors to her husband's charity, and whether the foundation tried to screen out money from those on whose issues the senator had intervened.
Hillary Clinton wrote to the Federal Communications Commission in February 2004 expressing concern that changes to competitive local exchange carrier access rates could hurt carriers such as New York-based PAETEC Communications. PAETEC's chief executive is Arunas Chesonis, whose family and charity later contributed to the Clinton foundation.
Sarah Wood, executive director of the Chesonis Family Foundation, was invited by a part of the Clinton Foundation -- the Clinton Global Initiative -- to join the initiative after it was established in 2005, Wood said Monday. The Chesonis family personally paid $15,000 for Wood's membership in CGI in September 2007, and the Chesonis foundation paid $20,000 for it in March 2008, Wood said.
The Chesonis Family Foundation made a $10 million pledge last May to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for solar energy research, meeting Wood's commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative to act on a project, Wood said.
Wood said the Chesonis foundation was unaware of the senator's letter to the FCC on the PAETEC issue and didn't have any contact with her office.
PAETEC spokesman Christopher Muller said PAETEC had no involvement in the Chesonis donations to the Clinton foundation. PAETEC asked Hillary Clinton to intervene with the FCC on its behalf, he said.
"Yes, PAETEC feels strongly that a competitive telecom environment is in the best interests of New York businesses and consumers," Muller wrote in an e-mail to the AP. "PAETEC has petitioned numerous elected officials in the markets which we serve in an effort to retain the spirit of the Telecom Act of 1996." The issue is still pending at the FCC, and PAETEC remains involved in it, Muller said.
Pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. is also a member of the Clinton Global Initiative, company spokeswoman Amy Rose said. Merck has been a member of CGI since 2006, when dues were $15,000. In 2008 membership dues rose to $20,000. As part of its commitment to CGI, Merck sponsors public health initiatives around the world, Rose said. Merck joined CGI on its own initiative, she said.
Hillary Clinton wrote a November 2005 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt urging approval of the human papillomavirus vaccine. Merck applied in December 2005 for approval of its HPV vaccine, Gardasil, and the vaccine was approved for use in females ages 9 to 26. Merck is still seeking approval for use in older women, Rose said.
Rose said Merck's participation in the Clinton Global Initiative was unrelated to Hillary Clinton's letter. Merck didn't communicate with Hillary Clinton or her office about its HPV vaccine and was unaware of her letter before it was sent, Rose said.
Another letter involved an issue important to Barr Laboratories. Sens. Clinton and Patty Murray, D-Wash., wrote to Leavitt in August 2005 urging that "science, not politics" guide the agency and "that a decision be brought swiftly on Plan B's application." Leavitt's office described the Clinton letter as pertaining to Barr's application for Plan B, the emergency contraceptive also called the morning-after pill.
Barr Laboratories gave $10,001 to $25,000 to the Clinton foundation, the charity's donor list shows. Barr joined the Clinton Global Initiative in April 2007, Barr spokeswoman Carol Cox said. Cox didn't comment on Clinton's letter.
Several of the letters involve issues directly affecting KeySpan Corp., the energy company now known as National Grid. KeySpan didn't ask the senator to intervene and had no communication with her office about its later donations to the Clinton foundation, said company spokesman Chris Mostyn.
KeySpan joined the Clinton Global Initiative in 2007 because it wanted to become involved in the climate change issue, Mostyn said. KeySpan paid $15,000 for its membership in 2007 and $20,000 for 2008, Mostyn said.
Clinton joined several other members of Congress from New York in February 2003 asking the Commerce Department to consider an appeal by Islander East, a limited liability company formed by subsidiaries of KeySpan Energy and another company, to build a natural gas pipeline to serve Connecticut, New York City and Long Island, N.Y.
Clinton and the other lawmakers wanted the Commerce Department to overturn the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's determination that Islander East's pipeline plan was inconsistent with the state's coastal zone management program. Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd and other Connecticut lawmakers wrote to Commerce urging denial of Islander East's appeal.
Clinton earlier wrote to the Long Island Power Authority and to KeySpan urging them to consider the modernization of KeySpan's New York power plants. Her letter in June 2002 offered her help on the issue. Also in 2002, Clinton wrote the federal government letters on the natural gas Millennium Pipeline Project in which KeySpan was involved, urging an extension of a deadline for public comment and forwarding information on route alternatives.
Mostyn said KeySpan didn't ask Clinton to get involved in the issues. The Millennium Pipeline began commercial operations in December, the Islander East project is on hold due to Connecticut's rejection of permits, and the company is working with the Long Island Power Authority to study power plant modernization, he said.