WASHINGTON – Hillary Rodham Clinton's decision to step down from the board of her family's foundation will be followed this week by a Clinton Foundation board meeting to consider limiting international fundraising and improving transparency.
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Her resignation and the changes under discussion appear aimed at insulating Clinton from mounting concerns that the charity's financial ties to foreign governments and corporations may pose political risks to her presidential candidacy.
Directors of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and its subsidiary, Clinton Health Access Initiative, will discuss possible changes to donation and public disclosure policies sometime this week during board meetings, a foundation official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss confidential planning on the record.
The foundation's directors are considering more frequent disclosure of donors and other restrictions. Any changes would be announced once approved by the board, which includes Bill and Chelsea Clinton; attorney Cheryl Mills, who was chief of staff to Mrs. Clinton at the State Department; Bruce Lindsey, who advised Bill Clinton during his two terms as president; and Lisa Jackson, who served on President Barack Obama's Cabinet with Mrs. Clinton.
Mills has reportedly informally advised Hillary Clinton in advance of her decision to run for the presidency, but neither Clinton Foundation officials nor a campaign spokesman would say if she has also considered resigning from the board.
The foundation, based in New York, hinted in recent weeks that it might restrict foreign donations after acknowledging that it accepted millions of dollars from foreign governments despite an agreement with the Obama administration that it would limit donations from foreign sources during Hillary Clinton's four-year term as secretary of state. The Washington Post has previously reported that the foundation continued accepting donations during Clinton's stint under exceptions that allowed some foreign governments to continue contributing at previous levels.
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Turmoil within the foundation about how to deal with issues surrounding Clinton's candidacy reflects the ethical dilemmas confronting the philanthropic powerhouse.
Since 2001, former President Bill Clinton — and more recently, Hillary Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea — nurtured ties with foreign governments, billionaires and political financiers to raise more than $2 billion to combat poverty and disease and tackle climate change and environmental disasters. But Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign — in which Bill Clinton is expected to play a prominent advisory role — now faces complications involving the interests of dozens of donors who have already given millions and contributors who may give millions more if she wins the White House.
Hillary Clinton has not explained the rationale for her resignation and the foundation would not detail the specifics or timing of any potential changes.
"These relationships are problematic not just from a political perspective, but from a real life perspective," said Douglas White, director of the Fundraising Management Graduate Program at Columbia University in New York. "She has to insulate herself from all the requests, all the grants, pretty much all the money and activity at the foundation."
Republican opponents plan to exploit the Clinton foundation's foreign ties as a campaign issue. Minutes after Clinton declared her candidacy, Matt Rhodes, chairman of the GOP-leaning America Rising super political committee, blasted her role in "the constant intersection of politics and money at the Clinton Foundation."
Political and philanthropy ethics experts said Clinton and her family foundation would remain vulnerable if the charity's boards take half-measures in cutting ties between Clinton and foundation donors, particularly foreign governments and corporations. An Associated Press analysis of Clinton Foundation donors shows that foreign governments alone have donated between $55 million and $130 million.
"They have to build a clear firewall," said Lawrence Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Hubert H. Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota. "That would mean a strict prohibition on any foreign money solicited, committed or pending to being accepted after a clear date given by the foundation."
Some board members are major donors. The biggest is Frank Giustra, a Canadian billionaire who struck a close friendship with Bill Clinton while donating more than $31 million to the foundation since the mid-2000s.
Others include Cheryl Saban, wife of film producer Haim Saban, who gave between $10 million and $25 million along with her husband while helping to bundle hundreds of thousands of dollars for Clinton's losing 2008 presidential run; Rolando Gonzalez Bunster, a Dominican energy developer who gave between $250,000 and $500,000 to the foundation; and Hadeel Ibrahim, daughter of an Egyptian billionaire whose foundation gave between $250,000 and $500,000.