The Clinton Foundation, fighting back against charges of conflict of interest in a forthcoming book, is trying to tamp down a growing political problem by admitting that it made “mistakes” as the philanthropy grew but maintaining that it did not intentionally do anything wrong.
In a blog post out Sunday, Foundation acting CEO Maura Pally reaffirmed its commitment to transparency, but nevertheless said some errors had occurred.
“Yes, we made mistakes, as many organizations of our size do, but we are acting quickly to remedy them, and have taken steps to ensure they don’t happen in the future,” Pally wrote.
While the details of the Clinton Foundation’s operations are complex and date back almost a decade, they have thrown a wrench in the “ramp up” period of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Instead of focusing solely on early presidential states, like the campaign had hoped, many of her top aides spent the last week answering questions about the foundation and its tangled relationship to numerous foreign donors.
In a new book “Clinton Cash,” writer Peter Schweizer alleges that the Foundation, led until recently by likely Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, let some donors to the foundation have undue influence on the charity’s work and State Department actions. Schweizer said Sunday that he did not have “direct evidence” of ethical misconduct, but said the pattern he uncovered should raise eyebrows and trigger an investigation.
The Clinton Foundation has drawn fire both from Schweizer and from reports in The New York Times and other outlets for some of the work of a subsidiary of the philanthropy, the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, which is backed by Frank Giustra, a Canadian mining company owner who has been a big donor to the Foundation.
Pally said that donations to the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership weren’t publicly disclosed because Canada bars the names of donors from being released without their consent.
“This is hardly an effort on our part to avoid transparency,” Pally wrote.
She also explained the Foundation’s plans to refile tax returns after reports emerged that the philanthropy had made errors in recent years. Pally said the Foundation had not intentionally under reported revenue, but rather accidentally combined revenue from government grants with contributions from donors.
Pally stressed the Foundation was working to rectify the errors.
“We are committed to operating the Foundation responsibly and effectively to continue the life-changing work that this philanthropy is doing every day,” she said.
Hillary Clinton resigned from the Foundation’s board immediately after declaring her presidential run. Shortly after, the Foundation unveiled new a new donor disclosure schedule and said it would only accept foreign donations from six countries.
The Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership was started in 2007 when Giustra brought the idea to Bill Clinton, according to a spokesperson for Giustra. The initiative is an arm of the Clinton Foundation, meaning its donors are disclosed on the Clinton Foundation website.
Giustra pledged $100 million at the start of the enterprise and in order to help fund the initiative, a Clinton Foundation spokesperson said Giustra also established The Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (Canada) in 2007. The Canadian charity was signed off on by the Clinton Foundation, the foundation spokesperson said.
Both a Giustra and foundation spokesperson said that the Canadian arm charity was founded in order to allow other Canadian philanthropists to donate to the enterprise and receive a tax credit. But because the charity is operated in Canada, it falls under different laws than groups in the United States.
“Under Canadian laws, charitable donors have a right to privacy,” said Giustra’s spokesperson. “When a donor gives money to a Canadian charity in confidence, and in the process provides his or her personal information, under Canadian law a fiduciary relationship is established between the Canadian charity toward the donor concerning the use of private information that the donor has provided.”
Giuistra’s spokesperson would not detail the group’s donors, but said that no one from the Clinton Foundation was briefed on donations to The Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (Canada) because that would have broken Canadian law.
“To maintain a fiduciary relationship between Canadian donors and Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (Canada) with regard to disclosure of donor information, prior consent must be first obtained from each and every Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (Canada) donor agreeing to disclose their donor information to any other person or organization,” the spokesperson said.
Schweizer, however, was on ABC on Sunday, where the author argued that there was a smoking gun in the book.
“The smoking gun is in the pattern of behavior,” he said of the Clintons.
All of these explanations by people close to the Clintons, though, have not stemmed the tide of mounting ethical questions being poised by Clinton’s detractors. Many Republican operatives see the story as clean hit against Clinton, and one that will make a convincing ad once the campaigns start in earnest.
“These new revelations,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Allison Moore said on Thursday, “continue to raise serious questions about Hillary Clinton’s judgment as Secretary of State.”