The leader of the Republican Party on Wednesday demanded that the White House address violations to a “flawed agreement” that was supposed to prevent conflicts of interest involving foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was serving as secretary of state.
In a letter obtained by McClatchy, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the document that was designed to allay concerns that donors to the Clinton Foundation could influence U.S. foreign policy “failed to alleviate conflicts of interest, and at times was blatantly ignored.”
The letter was sent to White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, one of President Barack Obama’s closest aides who served as co-chair of the Obama transition team and signed the agreement with the Clinton Foundation in December 2008.
The White House suggested it was unlikely to respond to the letter. Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the RNC “may have their conflict of interest in writing the letter. They may have their own sort of interest that maybe something other than the truth and transparency and all that.”
Hillary Clinton, 67, is the presumed front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, though she continues to be dogged by ethical questions about her family foundation’s acceptance of foreign donations as well as her use of a private email account to conduct government business while she was secretary. She is expected to announce her second run for the White House next month, according to those knowledgeable about her plans but not authorized to speak publicly.
The Clinton Foundation – now called the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation – has received millions of dollars in donations from foreign governments, businesses, individuals and non-governmental organizations around the globe, including some while Hillary Clinton was serving as secretary of state, according to an analysis of 10 years of contributions by McClatchy.
After Obama tapped Clinton to be the nation’s top diplomat, the foundation agreed not to accept donations from foreign governments that had not previously contributed to the organization without a review by the State Department and consented to disclose a list of its donors each year.
Recent news reports indicate the agreement did not always work. The foundation did not seek approval from the State Department before accepting $500,000 from the Algerian government, according to The Washington Post. A related entity, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, failed to disclose its donors annually between 2010-2013, according to Reuters.
In his letter, Priebus asked Jarrett to provide him written responses to a variety of questions about how the White House enforced the agreement, when it realized it was not working and who was in charge of the issue within the administration. He also poses the question that many critics have asked in recent weeks: Were foreign governments that contributed to the Clinton Foundation given special treatment or consideration by the White House?
The agreement “was billed to the public and Congress as a pledge toward transparency and the avoidance of conflicts of interest,” Priebus wrote. “The American people deserve to know whether it was nothing more than a memorandum between parties that had no real interest in either of these goals.”
Foreign nationals have been prohibited from donating money to U.S. campaigns since 1966, though foreign contributions to charities such as the Clinton Foundation are allowed.
More than 40 percent of the foundation’s top donors are based in foreign countries, according to McClatchy’s analysis. In total, at least 70 of the 168 donors contributing more than $1 million each are foreign individuals or entities. Of the seven top donors giving more than $25 million each, four were foreign.
At a recent news conference to primarily address the issue of her email, Clinton defended the foreign donations. “I am very proud of the work the foundation does,” she said. “I’m very proud of the hundreds of thousands of people who support the work of the foundation and the results that have been achieved for people here at home and around the world.”
Foundation spokesman Craig Minassian has said the foundation has received the support of individuals, organizations and governments from all over the world because of its good works. “The bottom line: These contributions are helping improve the lives of millions of people across the world, for which we are grateful,” he said.
Former President Bill Clinton founded the charity, then called the William J. Clinton Foundation, in 2001 to address issues around the world, including health care, climate change and economic development. After leaving the State Department in 2013, Clinton joined the foundation, which changed its name to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation after the couple and their daughter.
The foundation is not required to publicly release its donors. A foundation spokesman said that the organization continued to release donor information after Clinton left the State Department to be transparent.
The foundation website indicated that 65,499 individuals or entities donated since 2004, though it does not include exact donation amounts; does not give dates beyond indicating who gave in 2014; and does not identify information about the donors such as addresses or employers.
The list includes many of the Clintons’ longtime friends and political supporters and prominent Democratic donors as well as the foreign individuals and entities.
At least one organization, America Rising, a conservative opposition research group, has called on the Clinton Foundation to return all its donations from foreign governments and pledge not to accept them in the future.
Lesley Clark of the Washington Bureau contributed.