So let’s talk about Bill and Hillary Clinton, their foundation and the donors who have showered that foundation with almost $2 billion in contributions over the years.
Did some of those donors give millions to the foundation in hopes of swaying governmental decisions by the State Department, which Hillary Clinton ran as secretary of state? Clinton’s defenders argue no. As they point out, donors may simply have wanted to support one of the many good causes championed by the foundation. Or maybe the explanation was more mercenary if still legal. Maybe donors saw a business advantage in being seen to have a relationship with a globally popular U.S. president, somebody who is widely respected and well-liked. Bill Clinton was certainly willing to trade on that celebrity, making himself very available as a traveling companion and international door-opener to those who made major contributions to his foundation.
But let’s not be naive. It would be foolish in the extreme to deny that at least some donors to the Clinton Foundation may have been trying to curry favor with someone whom they saw as a critical decision-maker, someone in a position to “help out a friend”. Donations inspired by such a hope almost certainly occurred, and they probably occurred more than once, because that’s how power and money work.
But that’s also where we get to the more serious questions:
Did those donors succeed in swaying governmental decisions? Did their investments pay off? Were they able to buy Hillary’s favor or influence on their behalf?
So far, we have no evidence that they did so, and Peter Schweizer, the author of the book that has fed this controversy, admits that he found no proof of that happening. We have no indication — no testimony, no document trail, not even an anonymous source — suggesting that Hillary Clinton or her staff ever interceded on behalf of a Clinton Foundation donor or pressured for a particular outcome.
In other words, this is typical of both the Clintons and of those obsessed by them. The power couple has never been shy about making money and avidly pursuing business opportunities that come their way, even if it gives their critics ammunition. Likewise, their critics have never been shy about accusing the Clintons of crossing the line into corruption, even if they can’t produce proof of such allegations.
How many times have we seen this? Throughout the ’90s, throughout investigation after investigation, the Clintons’ critics leveled a lot of charges but never produced proof. They produced allegations, innuendo and in some cases pure invention, but they never produced evidence of corruption. Over time, their inability to prove what they felt in their guts to be true grew so frustrating that their allegations grew more and more absurd, and public interest in those allegations eventually waned.
Now, apparently, we can look forward to another whole round of that mess.
But let me suggest a possible silver lining to all this:
If we’re suddenly going to be concerned about big money and politics and how the intersection of the two can create conflicts of interest, I think that’s a hopeful and long overdue development. Because until now, the operative line of the American political system, especially among conservatives, has been that it’s nothing to cause concern. As the Supreme Court reassured us in Citizens United, huge donations and supposedly independent expenditures may buy access to a politician and even that politician’s gratitude, but “ingratiation and access … are not corruption.”
That’s the new philosophy of casino politics. That’s the environment in which our elected leaders operate. So it’s more than a little rich to hear Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and others complain about the possibly corrupting influence of donations to the Clinton Foundation while they busily try to ingratiate themselves with the likes of Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, Norman Braman and others who may shower them with tens of millions of dollars.
Does the behavior of the Clintons cause me qualms? Yes, it does. Even with no evidence of illegality or corruption, it causes me qualms. But the entire political system these days causes me qualms. The idea that money equals speech causes me qualms. The blatant kissing of rings of potential donors who can singlehandedly break or make a candidate causes me qualms. I don’t think the gratitude of elected officials, Democrat or Republican, ought to be up for sale to the highest bidder, but if you’re going to claim to be fine with that, at least be consistent.