The Clinton Shell Game
“For the duration of my appointment as Secretary if I am confirmed, I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which The William J. Clinton Foundation (or the Clinton Global Initiative) is a party or represents a party….”
—Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton in a letter to State Department Designated Agency Ethics Official James H. Thessin, January 5, 2009.
Here at Judicial Watch, we were reminded of this pledge last week when Mrs. Clinton melted down in an exchange with a Sanders supporter who confronted her about Big Oil donations to her campaign. “I do not have,” Mrs. Clinton snapped. “I have money from people who work for fossil fuel companies. I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about me! I’m sick of it!”
The now ubiquitous legion of fact-checkers quickly weighed in, with PolitiFact noting that the Clinton campaign had received a mere $307,000 from oil and gas interests, or “0.2 percent of the more that $159 million her campaign committee has raised.” Bad Bernie. Points to Hillary.
A week earlier, PolitiFact dragged us into a similar flap when it attacked tax reform activist Grover Norquist for allegedly misstating information from documents we revealed showing collusion between Secretary of State Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). The documents included an email chain between senior State Department aides discussing how Mrs. Clinton would thank attendees at the gathering—CGI is the glittering centerpiece of the Clinton Inc. money machine, a colossal vacuum sucking up cash and celebrity on an unprecedented scale.
PolitiFact earnestly devoted several paragraphs to the difference between the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the meaning of the word “commitments.”
Excuse us for laughing. But we have been here many times before with the Clintons and their enablers in the media. We remember what the meaning of “is,” is. We don’t mean to pick on PolitiFact, which does some fine work, but its response to the fossil fuel flap and the Norquist remarks perfectly illustrates the shell game the Clintons have been playing for decades.
Few media outlets seem to have noticed, for example, that the Clintons immediately violated the spirit, if not the letter, of a Memorandum of Understanding signed at the same time Mrs. Clinton sent her pledge to the State Department ethics office. In it, the Clintons promised to incorporate CGI “as a separate entity from the Foundation,” in order to “not create conflicts or the appearance of conflicts.” But what in fact happened is that CGI was spun off for a few years with Clinton cronies at the helm, then immediately brought back into the foundation fold when Mrs. Clinton resigned as secretary of state.
The foundation/CGI switcheroo is the Clinton shell game in microcosm: a shifting cast of entities all operating in the same Clinton universe for the same Clinton goal. The Norquist encounter is instructive. Drawing from the Judicial Watch documents, Norquist told Fox, “we now know officials were sending official thank-yous to people who gave to the Clinton Foundation. Letting them know ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ that you didn’t just give to the Clinton Foundation. Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, appreciates what you’ve done.”
Norquist was wrong on the fine points—it was the Clinton Global Initiative, not the Clinton Foundation—but right on the big picture. There is no real-world difference between the Clintons’ philanthropic and political pursuits. Every dollar in Clinton World is bent in some way to serve the greater good, which in Clinton eyes, of course, means Bill and Hillary and Chelsea.
So in a real-world understanding of money and influence, PolitiFact’s $307,000 oil industry figure is both a “correct” number and ethically imprecise—it’s right on the fine point but wrong on the big picture. Many millions of dollars in fossil fuel money have in fact poured into Clinton coffers.
Last year, for example, Vox published an enlightening study of 181 Clinton Foundation donors who also lobbied Mrs. Clinton’s State Department. They included oil giant Qatar, Duke Energy, Exxon Mobil, Noble Energy, Hess, Shell, BP, Chevron, Chesapeake Energy, BP and Occidental Petroleum. Clinton Foundation donations are only disclosed in ranges, not exact figures, but money from these entities runs in the neighborhood of $5 million to $15 million.
Saudi Arabia—no slouch in the fossil fuel business of course—has donated between $10 million and $25 million to the foundation.
The oil and gas sector also was a contributor to Bill Clinton speech income, including payments for speeches to groups linked to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and South American energy interests. In an August 2014 investigation based on ongoing FOIA litigation, Judicial Watch reported that Bill Clinton had earned over $48 million for 215 speeches given while his wife was secretary of state.
A Washington Post investigation found that in their 41 years of public life, the Clintons have raked in about $3 billon, a staggering figure. “Many top Clinton patrons supported them in multiple ways,” the Post reported, “helping finance their political causes, their legal needs, their philanthropy and their personal bank accounts. In some case, companies connected to their donors hired the Clintons as paid speakers.”
The Clinton shell game is a big part of what Bernie Sanders means when he complains about the system being rigged to favor the rich and powerful—a charge that, increasingly, seems to be resonating in both parties.