Here is what a foundation should do: Collect money, distribute grants, and judge the work of its recipients. Here is what a foundation should not do: Give access to high-level government officials in exchange for gifts.
That is the simple and damning case against the Clinton Foundation. By now, it is clear that the Foundation operated as a vast and corrupt market for influence. With winks and nods, Bill and Hillary Clinton sold access to the Secretary of State’s office. And because donors were giving to a “Foundation,” all parties could quietly look the other way.
Let us call this what it is: graft masquerading as non-profit work. This story has many troubling elements, perhaps none more than this: By giving their donors a private line to the Secretary of State’s office, Bill and Hillary Clinton have made a mockery of America’s foundation system—and tarnished the reputations of the non-profits who received grants from them.
Every year, worthy organizations received funding and support from the Clinton Foundation. Blue Star Families, Student Veterans of America, and Year Up are among its many recipients, and their record of service to the public is unimpeachable.
The Clintons must apologize to grant recipients around the country in a public fashion. The first rule of leadership is taking responsibility for mistakes—and the Clintons should own up to their errors. They owe their grantees at least that much.
An organization I helped found, The Mission Continues, also received support, and we used those funds to help integrate veterans of the global war on terrorism into lives of service here at home.
Since that time, we have all learned much about the Clinton Foundation, and none of it has been good.
Those of us who have built and run non-profits are kept up at night by one question: How will we keep raising money for our cause? Foundation support is critical to fundraising, one of the core ways that non-profits stay afloat. It is also a uniquely American tradition: We are one of the few countries in the world with such a robust system of private-sector support for non-profits. Which is why it is shameful that the Clintons have sullied this proud tradition with their corrupt behavior.
It’s time the Clinton Foundation make this right, both for the country and for the grant recipients. They must clean house immediately. Remove the current leadership of the Foundation, and cut ties with the entire Clinton family, including their daughter Chelsea.
The Clintons must also apologize to grant recipients around the country in a public fashion. The first rule of leadership is taking responsibility for mistakes—and the Clintons should own up to their errors. They owe their grantees at least that much.
By this point, though, most of us know not to expect much from the Clintons. They are simply too accustomed to doing whatever is best for them, and then working overtime to avoid consequences. Faced with clear violations of public trust, they hem and haw. They hide behind private email servers and pricey lawyers. They use a sympathetic media to discredit their opponents and distract the public. They do everything, in other words, except take responsibility.
In Foundation-gate, this troubling pattern has already begun. The Clintons’ defenders have trotted out their usual excuses: That what the Clintons did is not, strictly speaking “illegal.” That the evidence is circumstantial. That the donors would have earned their high-level meetings even without giving money. But Americans—and, I suspect, the Clintons themselves—know that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
We deserve better than this. Our country’s system of private-sector foundation giving is something to be cherished. It speaks to some of our deepest impulses: our people’s generosity, ingenuity, and commitment to causes larger than themselves.
The Clintons have slandered this system by using it as a front for their political ambitions. And it’s time for them to right these serious wrongs.