If Hillary Clinton wins the U.S. presidential election in November, things will look different at the foundation that has become a central issue in her campaign.
Former President Bill Clinton’s announcement last week that the Clinton Foundation will no longer accept foreign and corporate donations if Hillary Clinton is elected president may have been about politics and perceptions, but it would also have real implications for some of the foundation’s branches. Those that depend heavily on foreign and corporate donations are already working to assure staff, donors, and beneficiaries their programs will continue — and for some that might mean a future more independent from the Clinton family.
As Devex has reported, Clinton Foundation initiatives might consider spinning off into their own separate legal entities, as the Clinton Health Access Initiative did over five years ago. This would allow them to continue their work and, as independent nonprofits, they would have more flexibility on sources of funding.
“The work that we have accomplished and lives we have changed through the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership is what I consider my most important lifelong work,” said Frank Giustra, a billionaire from Vancouver, Canada, who funds a Clinton Foundation initiative focused on addressing market gaps in supply and distribution chains in developing countries.
“President Clinton and I believe it is important that we continue the work of alleviating poverty around the world, and I am committed to the future of CGEP in order to do so,” said Giustra, who has drawn criticism for his charity’s nondisclosure of donors to the Clinton Foundation.
If Hillary Clinton becomes president, CGEP will spin into an independent entity, he said, enabling the group to continue to pursue programs such as Chakipi Accesso, which employs women in “last mile” door-to-door sales roles in Haiti and Peru.
Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim is currently — along with Giustra — financing half of CGEP’s expansion in Latin America. By spinning off, CGEP could continue to engage Slim’s support and potentially draw new international donors to to the effort.
The announcement last week means the foundation will only accept money from U.S. citizens and independent charities if Clinton wins the election. So these groups will have to find other organizations to carry out the global development work they want to support.
“It is very important for a president of the United States, or any elected public official, not to be perceived as providing undue access,” Jane Wales, CEO of the Global Philanthropy Forum and World Affairs Council, who previously worked in the Clinton administration, told Devex.
The Clinton Foundation is quick to point out that 90 percent of its donations are $100 or less. But its top donors, groups that have given more than $25 million, include the Children's Investment Fund Foundation, based in London, the Nationale Postcode Loterij, based in the Netherlands, and UNITAID, based in Switzerland. And corporations that have contributed up to $5 million include Exxonmobil, Cisco, and Booz Allen Hamilton.
In April, the foundation announced that it would restrict foreign donations to six Western nations and disclose donors quarterly rather than annually. But pressure has been growing to make more significant changes — or shut down entirely — as critics have described donations from countries and companies with potential interest in U.S. government decisions as a “pay for play” arrangement. Bill Clinton also announced that this year’s Clinton Global Initiative meeting in September will be the last.
“They will reallocate according to some criteria that avoid conflicts of interests perceived or real,” Pierre Ferrari, president and CEO of Heifer International, told Devex. He said it will be a very delicate situation for the foundation if Clinton wins the presidency.
Wales noted that for foundations working in developing countries, cost-sharing with governments and philanthropists in those countries can be an important part of a sustainable, country-led effort. If the Clinton Foundation alters its donor policy, it might consider how other foundations have navigated working alongside local donors. For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, chaired by the richest man in the world, has teamed up with Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa, in its efforts to eradicate polio and cut malnutrition in Nigeria.
“If the only thing we're talking about is whether the Clinton Foundation is the vehicle, that’s actually not that important,” Wales told Devex. “I think the work is bigger than any institution or individual.”
“Having launched a global conversation about the private sector’s role with respect to the public good, it is in fact unstoppable now. So others can pick it up and keep it going,” Wales said. “I think that will be the true measure of CGI’s long term success and impact,” she said.
As the foundation sorts through next steps — a process Clinton said would take a year to complete — it can draw on the $250 million endowment it raised in part to ensure stability through the election and beyond. Donna Shalala, the foundation’s president, said in an earlier conversation with Devex that she and her team have taken steps to protect programs from uncertainty.
Catherine Cheney covers the West Coast global development community for Devex. Since graduating from Yale University, where she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in political science, Catherine has worked as a reporter and editor for a range of publications including World Politics Review, POLITICO, and NationSwell, a media company and membership network she helped to build. She is also an ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network and the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute.
Subscribe to Devex Newswire
Top international development headlines emailed to you every day