If you believe public officials’ doors should be equally open to all, you can’t be happy with the news that Clinton Foundation donors comprised more than half of the private citizens Hillary Clinton met with while secretary of state.
There’s no evidence of pay-for-play, as Donald Trump keeps insisting. It appears no laws were broken or ethics rules compromised. And yet, giving 85 of 154 private audiences to donors to your family’s charity sure smells like pay-for-access, if not pay-for-play.
As bad as that looks, though, it’s legally OK. If it weren’t, ethical shadows might dog the entire Congress. Our leaders won’t admit it, but pay-for-access goes on in Washington, D.C., all day every day. And yet, Congress just can’t seem to pass effective campaign finance reform to squelch the impact of big money on our politics.
Not hard to imagine why.
Still, that’s no excuse for Clinton. When you seek the highest office, you should uphold the highest of standards. Even if no laws were broken or rules violated, common sense tells you this kind of thing looks bad.
Her campaign blasted the Associated Press report that revealed the meetings. Her team says the story includes too small a sampling of her meetings, and casts aspersions on legitimate meetings with people like Melinda Gates, a Clinton Foundation donor and international philanthropist in her own right.
Perhaps. The Clintons knew they had a problem before the story appeared, however. Bill Clinton has said he’ll step down from the foundation’s board and stop fundraising, should his wife win the White House. The foundation won’t accept money from foreign governments or corporations if she wins.
That’s not enough. The potential for ethical conflicts remains too great.
Bill Clinton should step down now. The family should wall itself off from the foundation immediately, and take its name off the charity, as it should have when she was secretary of state.
The foundation does critically important work around the globe. Clinton foes who are reducing it to a political foil might not literally be bound for hell, as ex-Clinton aide James Carville suggests, but surely new leadership can step in to continue its good deeds.
In the meantime, D.C. partisans who are shocked – shocked! – to find possible pay-for-access in their midst should pass legislation strengthening safeguards against it.
Who knows if any more surprises concerning the foundation’s ties with the Clinton State Department will pop up from the new batch of 15,000-plus emails a judge has ordered released. Ever the lawyer, Clinton seems to think that as long as she’s done nothing illegal or broken any rules, she’s OK.
She is, it seems, a far shrewder lawyer than politician.
She seems not to recognize that while a good lawyer focuses on what the law allows, a good politician focuses on what the people want.
Her dismal trustworthiness ratings strongly suggest the people want to see stricter ethical standards from her. She ignores that at her own peril.