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Hillary Clinton's Complex Corporate Ties

20/02/2015 3:59am

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By James V. Grimaldi and Rebecca Ballhaus 

Among recent secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton was one of the most aggressive global cheerleaders for American companies, pushing governments to sign deals and change policies to the advantage of corporate giants such as General Electric Co., Exxon Mobil Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Boeing Co.

At the same time, those companies were among the many that gave to the Clinton family's global foundation set up by her husband, former President Bill Clinton. At least 60 companies that lobbied the State Department during her tenure donated a total of more than $26 million to the Clinton Foundation, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of public and foundation disclosures.

As Mrs. Clinton prepares to embark on a race for the presidency, she has a web of connections to big corporations unique in American politics--ties forged both as secretary of state and by her family's charitable interests. Those relationships are emerging as an issue for Mrs. Clinton's expected presidential campaign as income disparity and other populist themes gain early attention.

Indeed, Clinton Foundation money-raising already is drawing attention. "To a lot of progressive Democrats, Clinton's ties to corporate America are disturbing," says Jack Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College who once worked for congressional Republicans. Mrs. Clinton's connections to companies, he says, "are a bonanza for opposition researchers because they enable her critics to suggest the appearance of a conflict of interest."

The Wall Street Journal identified the companies involved with both Clinton-family charitable endeavors and with Mrs. Clinton's State Department by examining large corporate donations to the Clinton Foundation, then reviewing lobbying-disclosure reports filed by those companies. At least 44 of those 60 companies also participated in philanthropic projects valued at $3.2 billion that were set up though a wing of the foundation called the Clinton Global Initiative, which coordinates the projects but receives no cash for them.

Mrs. Clinton's connections to the companies don't end there. As secretary of state, she created 15 public-private partnerships coordinated by the State Department, and at least 25 companies contributed to those partnerships. She also sought corporate donations for another charity she co-founded, a nonprofit women's group called Vital Voices.

Mrs. Clinton's spokesman, Nick Merrill, says: "She did the job that every secretary of state is supposed to do and what the American people expect of them--especially during difficult economic times. She proudly and loudly advocated on behalf of American business and took every opportunity she could to promote U.S. commercial interests abroad."

Corporate donations to politically connected charities aren't illegal so long as they aren't in exchange for favors. There is no evidence of that with the Clinton Foundation.

In some cases, donations came after Mrs. Clinton took action that helped a company. In other cases, the donation came first. In some instances, donations came both before and after. All of the companies mentioned in this article said their charitable donations had nothing to do with their lobbying agendas with Mrs. Clinton's State Department.

President Barack Obama's transition team worried enough about potential problems stemming from Clinton-organization fundraising while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state that it asked Mr. Clinton to quit raising money from foreign governments for the Clinton Global Initiative and to seek approval for paid speaking engagements, which he did. The transition team didn't put limits on corporate fundraising.

The foundation resumed soliciting foreign governments after Mrs. Clinton left the State Department. The official name of the foundation was changed to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation. Mrs. Clinton became a director. All told, the Clinton Foundation and its affiliates have collected donations and pledges from all sources of more than $1.6 billion, according to their tax returns. On Thursday, the foundation said that if Mrs. Clinton runs for president, it would consider whether to continue accepting foreign-government contributions as part of an internal policy review.

"The Clinton Foundation has raised hundreds of millions that it claims is for charitable causes, but clearly overlaps with Hillary Clinton's political ambitions," said Tim Miller, director of America Rising PAC, a conservative group that has targeted Mrs. Clinton.

Foundation spokesman Craig Minassian says the group's work helps millions around the world and its donors have a history of supporting such work. "So when companies get involved with the Clinton Foundation it's for only one reason, because they know our work matters," he says.

In her book, "Hard Choices," Mrs. Clinton said one of her goals at the State Department was "placing economics at the heart of our foreign policy." She wrote: "It was clearer than ever that America's economic strength and our global leadership were a package deal."

Matthew Goodman, a former Clinton State Department official who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, says Mrs. Clinton is the first secretary of state to make economics such a focus since George C. Marshall, who helped rebuild postwar Europe.

Economic Statecraft

That approach, which Mrs. Clinton called "economic statecraft," emerged in discussions with Robert Hormats, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. investment banker who has worked in Democratic and Republican administrations and became an undersecretary of state. "One of the very first items was, how do we strengthen the role of the State Department in economic policy?" he says.

The focus positioned Mrs. Clinton to pursue not just foreign-policy results, but domestic economic ones.

Early in Mrs. Clinton's tenure, according to Mr. Hormats, Microsoft's then Chief Research Officer Craig Mundie asked the State Department to send a ranking official to a fourth annual meeting of U.S. software executives and Chinese government officials about piracy and Internet freedom. Mr. Hormats joined the December 2009 meeting in Beijing.

Since 2005, Microsoft has given the Clinton Global Initiative $1.3 million, in addition to free software, according to the foundation.

In 2011, Microsoft launched a three-year initiative coordinated by the Clinton Global Initiative to provide free or discounted software and other resources to students and teachers--a commitment Microsoft estimated to be worth $130 million.

Mr. Hormats says there was no relation between Microsoft's donations and the State Department's participation in the China conference.

In 2012, the Clinton Foundation approached GE about working together to expand a health-access initiative the company had launched four years earlier, says a GE spokeswoman.

That same year, Mrs. Clinton lobbied for GE to be selected by the Algerian government to build power plants in that country. She went to Algiers that October and met with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. "I saw an opportunity for advancing prosperity in Algeria and seizing an opportunity for American business," she explained in her book.

A month after Mrs. Clinton's trip, the Clinton Foundation announced the health-initiative partnership with GE, the company's first involvement with the foundation. GE eventually contributed between $500,000 and $1 million to the partnership.

The following September, GE won the contracts with the Algerian government, saying they marked "some of its largest power agreements in company history."

Mrs. Clinton championed U.S. energy companies and launched an office to promote overseas projects. Many of those efforts were focused in Eastern and Central Europe, where she saw energy development as a hedge against Russia's dominance in oil and gas. Companies that had interests in those areas included Exxon Mobil and Chevron Corp.

One effort, the Global Shale Gas Initiative, promoted hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique perfected by U.S. companies. In 2010, Mrs. Clinton flew to Krakow to announce a Polish-American cooperation on a global shale-gas initiative, according to her book. At the time, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted abundant deposits of shale gas in Poland.

After pursuing shale-gas projects in Poland, Exxon Mobil gave up a few years later, and Chevron said late last month it would abandon its Poland project.

In 2012, Mrs. Clinton flew to Sofia, Bulgaria, and urged the Bulgarian Parliament to reconsider its moratorium on fracking and its withdrawal of Chevron's five-year exploration license. A few months later, the government allowed conventional gas exploration, but not fracking. Chevron left Bulgaria in 2012.

Ben Schreiber of the environmental group Friends of the Earth says: "We've long been concerned about the ties that Hillary Clinton has to the oil-and-gas industry."

Both Exxon and Chevron are supporters of the Clinton Foundation. Chevron donated $250,000 in 2013. A Chevron spokesman said the Clinton charity "is one of many programs and partnerships that the company has had or maintains across a number of issue areas and topics pertinent to our business."

Exxon Mobil has given about $2 million to the Clinton Global Initiative, starting in 2009. Since 2007, Exxon Mobil also has given $16.8 million to Vital Voices, the nonprofit women's group co-founded by Mrs. Clinton, according to the group's spokeswoman.

An Exxon Mobil spokesman said the donations were made to support work on issues Exxon Mobil has long championed, such as programs to fight malaria and empower women. "That is the sole motivation for our support of charitable programs associated with the Clintons," he said. "We did not seek or receive any special consideration on the Shale Gas Initiative."

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In October 2009, Mrs. Clinton went to bat for aerospace giant Boeing, which was seeking to sell jets to Russia, by flying to Moscow to visit the Boeing Design Center. "I made the case that Boeing's jets set the global gold standard, and, after I left, our embassy kept at it," she wrote in her book.

About seven months later, in June 2010, Russia agreed to purchase 50 Boeing 737s for $3.7 billion, choosing Boeing over Europe's Airbus Group NV.

Two months later, Boeing made its first donation to the Clinton Foundation--$900,000 to help rebuild Haiti's public-education system. Overall, Boeing has contributed around $1.1 million to the Clinton Foundation since 2010.

A Boeing spokeswoman said it is routine for U.S. officials to advocate on behalf of businesses such as Boeing. "U.S. businesses face fierce global competition, and oftentimes an unlevel playing field in the global marketplace," she said in a written statement. "Secretary Clinton did nothing for Boeing that former U.S. presidents and cabinet secretaries haven't done for decades, or that their foreign counterparts haven't done on behalf of companies like Airbus."

Before every overseas trip, says Mr. Hormats, the former undersecretary of state, he helped prepare a list of U.S. corporate interests for Mrs. Clinton to advocate while abroad.

During Mrs. Clinton's three trips to India, she urged the government to kill a ban on stores that sell multiple brands, a law aimed at department stores or big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

"It wasn't just Wal-Mart," Mr. Hormats says. "It was the whole point of multibrand retail. Wal-Mart was, of course, the biggest."

Mrs. Clinton served on the board of the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer between 1986 and 1992, when her husband was governor of that state, and the law firm she worked for at the time represented the company. Wal-Mart has donated nearly $1.2 million to the Clinton Foundation for a program that issues grants to student-run charitable projects. The company also has paid more than $370,000 in membership fees to the foundation since 2008, according to a Wal-Mart spokesman.

Trip to India

Before Mrs. Clinton's official trip to India in 2012, Wal-Mart Chief Executive Mike Duke joined her at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, to pledge $12 million to help women in Latin America. The donation included $1.5 million in grants to 55,000 women entrepreneurs through the International Fund for Women and Girls, one of the 15 public-private partnerships Mrs. Clinton created at the State Department, and $500,000 for Vital Voices, the charity she co-founded.

"We committed to helping women around the world live better," Mr. Duke said at the time. "By working with leaders like Secretary Clinton, we're bringing that mission to life."

One month later, Mrs. Clinton traveled to India to make the case against the ban on retail stores such as Wal-Mart. Then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had proposed allowing companies such as Wal-Mart to invest up to 51% directly in local multibrand retailers, but one of his allies, Mamata Banerjee, a regional governor, opposed the idea. Ms. Banerjee's support was key to Mr. Singh's majority in Parliament.

Mrs. Clinton met with Ms. Banerjee to press the matter. She also said in a speech in West Bengal that U.S. retailers could bring an "enormous amount of expertise" to India in areas ranging from supply-chain management to working with small producers and farmers. Her lobbying was unsuccessful.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the retailer had lobbied the State Department on the issue, which he said was one of dozens of topics important to the business.

After Mrs. Clinton's India trip, her husband asked Mr. Duke, Walmart's CEO, to change his schedule to appear at the opening panel of the Clinton Global Initiative. Mr. Duke agreed.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at

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