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Charity: Last refuge of the scoundrel. Photo credit: WikiCommons/Gage Skidmore

In November of 2008, shortly after Barack Obama defeated John McCain, the incoming administration’s transition team signed a short, vague “Memorandum of Understanding” with the Clinton Foundation. The agreement, which was negotiated so that Hillary Clinton could be named secretary of state, was meant to demonstrate that the foundation was a legitimate, conflict-of-interest free charity. “In considering Senator Clinton’s potential service as Secretary of State, the Parties seek to ensure that the Foundation may continue its important philanthropic activities around the world, which do valuable and critical work in areas such as HIV/AIDS, climate change and economic development,” the memorandum said.

But the agreement was a joke. It had no legal meaning after the inauguration and it didn’t have binding force on Bill Clinton. Furthermore, an internal foundation legal review concluded less than a week before the MoU was signed — and now released thanks to the Podesta emails — shows that the foundation was run without proper oversight, had been used for political purposes, was staffed with family cronies, accomplished little of its stated goals, and was effectively Bill Clinton’s personal toy. In short, everything we already knew about the foundation has been confirmed in its own review.

“There are members of the staff who are paid by the President/his office and the Foundation, which may cause apparent or real conflicts of interest,” reads the review. “For example, a senior staff member being paid by the President, the government, and the Foundation allowed the Foundation to host what may have been (or may have been viewed as) a political event, apparently, without official pre-approval from the Foundation’s legal department and without regard, before the fact, to the impact of that decision on the Foundation’s tax exempt status.”

The review also said that “a senior staff member” had attempted to have her travel paid for by the Foundation “when traveling with the President on mixed trips, even though her presence may not have been needed for the Foundation.”

It’s almost a certainty that the Foundation hid the legal review, and its conclusions, from the Obama administration because had it been disclosed it would have — or should have — torpedoed Hillary’s nomination. Clinton supporters keep complaining that Republicans are out to get Hillary and will investigate the foundation (among other topics) if she wins office and try to undermine her administration. Of course, Republicans are out to get her but she wouldn’t be so vulnerable if her family foundation hadn’t been run so improperly.

The legal review is blandly written but its conclusions are damning. Here are some excerpts:

This organization, loosely linked around the President, comprised of many “free agents,” and serving, to some degree, the interests of the President may have been appropriate when the Foundation was in its start-up phase, with few offices, few employees, and few major decisions.  It is not, however, appropriate for an organization that operates across the globe with over 500 employees and a budget of $90 million, that is regulated at every level of government, and that depends on outside funders for sustenance…In short, the systems deficiency subjects the Foundation to significant legal and reputational risks, results in inconsistencies and inefficiencies, and undermines its work and viability…

It is not apparent how staff members paid through various sources (which means, presumably, having more than one full-time job) are able to fulfill their responsibilities and duties to the Foundation given the amount of work associated with those responsibilities and duties.

Many staff members believe that staff members with closer ties to the former President receive better benefits or more favorable treatment from the Foundation as a result of those ties.

Many staff members believe that certain people are “untouchable” because of their relationship to the President…

While the Foundation has grown impressively over the past several years, it has a number of fundamental organizational challenges and deficiencies that undermine its effectiveness, expose it to significant risk, and, ultimately, threaten its long-term survival.  The Foundation (as opposed to its initiatives, which I have not reviewed) operates more like a political operation focused on immediate situations, tasks, and events, as opposed to a professional, strategic, and sustainable corporation committed to advancing its overall mission.  While that may not be a problem while the President is personally involved in the Foundation — and can garner support based on that involvement — it will be a problem when he is no longer involved, and the Foundation has to rise and/or fall on its own name and work only…

The lack of a strategy tied to an articulated vision is one of the major deficiencies of this organization. Employees, even at the senior level, could not articulate the organization’s game plan for achieving its mission, confessed that there are no goals or measures tied to any strategy, and complained that the work across the organization is not linked to each other or, even worse, does not always advance the Foundation’s mission or best interests…

Specifically, the organization appears to have been built around individuals, not the needs and interests of the Foundation, and it has not been reviewed or mapped against needs or interests (much less a real strategy) since the days of its inception.  Moreover and significantly, the work of the Foundation and the President are intertwined in a way that creates confusion at, and undermines the work of, the Foundation at virtually every level.  As a result, there is no “central command,” functionalities are divided across offices, Foundation offices and initiatives are dangerously independent, resources are not maximized, and a couple of key managers appear to have interests that do not always align with those of the Foundation…

The Foundation is not appropriately organized or sufficiently staffed to meet these objectives.  Specifically, there is no central personnel office, there are few position descriptions or requirements and standards for recruiting and hiring staff, and the heads of offices and initiatives have great discretion in creating and filling positions.  This can lead to and has led to inconsistent and sometimes negative results.

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  • gerald sornee

    What’s missing is the question [and answer] of why did Obama appoint Hillary as Secretary of State? She had no special qualifications for that position. Surely there were tens of thousands of Americans with superior qualifications. Hillary would, as a loyal member of the Democrat Party, have supported Obama over the GOP’s candidate – McCain! So, what was the quid pro quo that Barack Obama received, or was promised, when he and Bill personally negotiated the deal?

    • Brian McKeever

      Hillary finally agreeing to drop out of the race was almost certainly the quid pro qou. Beyond that, it isn’t as if Colin Powell (who reportedly HATED foreign travel), Condi Rice or John Kerry were any better qualified to be diplomats.

      The SOS is more there to represent the president at the highest levels–that doesn’t involve diplomacy as much as it does trading on influence, which the Clintons are obviously experts at doing.

      • gerald sornee

        In a way you made my point….there ARE thousands of people who could have qualified for the job of SOS … people without Hillary’s undying, in fact quite obnoxious, presidential ambition.

        She dropped out because she lost.

        I don’t think Obama saddled himself with Hillary just to get her out of the race or for the Clinton’s endorsement – which would have come anyway. Knowing what we now know about the Clinton’s GREED it’s highly likely that they offered Obama a big windfall to secure his family’s future.