More than 40 percent of the top donors to the Clinton family foundation are based in foreign countries, which could lead to conflict-of-interest questions for Hillary Clinton as she prepares to launch her campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
The charity that now bears Hillary Clinton’s name along with her husband and daughter has received millions of dollars in donations from foreign governments, businesses, individuals and nongovernment organizations around the globe, according to an analysis of 10 years of contributions by McClatchy. Many of them gave as recently as 2014.
The governments of Saudi Arabia and Norway each contributed $10 million to $25 million.
Mohammed Al-Amoudi, a billionaire businessman who lives in Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia, retired German race car driver Michael Schumacher, and Denis O'Brien, the Irish chairman of Digicel phone company, each donated between $5 million and $10 million.
A London-based children’s charity and a Nairobi-based organization trying to improve agriculture in Africa each gave between $1 million and $5 million.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development agency gave between $250,000 and $500,000 last year. The government agency is pushing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which had been under review by the State Department when Hillary Clinton was secretary.
In total, at least 70 of the 168 donors contributing more than $1 million each are foreign individuals or entities. Twenty-one of them contributed in 2014.
Of the seven top donors giving more than $25 million each, four were foreign.
Hillary Clinton, 67, is already the presumed front-runner for her party’s nomination, though she continues to be dogged by complaints about her high-priced speeches and ties to Wall Street.
Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, said the foreign donations or “everything that looks like big bucks” will make it more difficult for Clinton to relate to the middle-class voters she needs to woo.
“As much as she wants to build a firewall between her and the foundation, it’s not going to work when perception is nine-tenths of politics,” he said.
“The Clinton Foundation is a philanthropy, period,” said Craig Minassian, chief communications officer for the foundation.
“As with other global charities, the Clinton Foundation receives the support of individuals, organizations and governments from all over the world because our programs are improving the lives of millions of people by strengthening health systems, improving access to lifesaving medicines, helping communities confront the effects of climate change, creating economic opportunity and reducing childhood obesity and other preventable diseases,” Minassian said.
“The bottom line: These contributions are helping improve the lives of millions of people across the world for which we are grateful,” he said.
Hillary Clinton’s personal spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the foundation began accepting foreign donations again after reducing that number considerably after Clinton left the secretary of state’s office.
“The alarming rate at which these contributions are now coming in presents a massive conflict-of-interest problem for her,” said Michael Short, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “When that 3 a.m. phone call comes, do voters really want to have a president on the line who took truckloads of cash from other countries? Absolutely not.”
America Rising, a conservative opposition research group, called on the Clinton Foundation to return all its donations from foreign governments and pledge not to accept them in the future.
Foreign nationals have been prohibited from donating money to U.S. campaigns since 1966, though government watchdog groups say that elections may be vulnerable to foreign influence through new committees whose donations are secret.
Foreign contributions to charities such as the Clinton Foundation are allowed.
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which studies money in politics, said it’s easier than ever for foreign individuals to influence a U.S. campaign through groups that are not required to disclose their donors. But she said the Clinton Foundation is of slightly less concern because it has disclosed the names of their donors.
Still, she said, there is a potential problem with foreign donors to the foundation. “There are a lot of high-rolling foreign donors,” she said. “This isn’t a boys or girls club. This is a major international force.”
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.
The foundation agreed to disclose the names of donors after President Barack Obama tapped Clinton to be secretary of state in 2009 to address questions about potential conflicts of interest between fundraising and her role as the nation’s top diplomat. It also agreed to a closer review of donations from foreign entities, which led to few donations from overseas.
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.
Pat Griffin, a legislative director in Bill Clinton’s administration who serves as the academic director for the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said the donors are giving to the foundation because of the work it does.
“It’s hard to imagine it’s to get credit and chits with Clinton,” he said. “They are principally giving for what it does. That gets lost in this debate.”
But Giffin said Clinton would have to come up with a way to separate herself from the foreign donations to the foundation if she runs for president.
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.
Donors that gave between $500,000 to $1 million include the Alibaba Group, a Chinese e-commerce company that provides sales services; the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office; and two British banks, Barclays PLC and HSBC Holdings, that have been under investigation by the Justice Department.
Danielle Ohl, Greg Gordon and Tish Wells of the Washington bureau contributed to this story.
Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com