Pope Francis and other high-profile leaders, celebrities and donors have declined invitations from the Clintons to the 11th annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). There are many prominent dignitaries, however, who will be in attendance (among them, King Hussein of Jordan, Bill Gates, Mexican President Enrique Nieto, actress Charlize Theron and Monsanto chairman and CEO Hugh Grant). However, the fact that several people have declined to attend, and a number of corporate sponsors have withdrawn their support, are indications of the damage done by the current scandals involving Hillary Clinton and her Foundation.
The theme of this year’s CGI meeting, held on the weekend of September 26th, is titled, “The Future of Impact.” Instead of a celebration of the Foundation’s accomplishments, however, the affair is highlighting the challenges the Foundation faces in repairing its image.
The ongoing investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email accounts has caused donors to distance themselves, but that isn’t the only problem the CGI faces. Recently, serious questions have been raised about HRC’s dealings with Swiss banking juggernaut UBS as Secretary of State, and how they might have benefitted the Foundation – at the expense of US taxpayers. UBS, which has been implicated in numerous financial crimes and has paid out billions of dollars in fines in order to settle cases against it, is a major CGI donor.
In 2009, then-Secretary of State Clinton negotiated a deal between UBS and the US Internal Revenue Service over names of Americans holding illegal Swiss accounts in order to avoid taxes. After that, the Foundation began receiving generous donations. Furthermore, the Foundation continued to receive donations from foreign entities, despite Bill Clinton’s assertions to the contrary. One of the primary concerns has to do with whether or not the Foundation was being used by foreign donors to influence the Secretary of State.
The Clinton Foundation has done many good things in struggling regions across the planet. Furthermore, Hillary Clinton’s deal with UBS was not technically in violation of the law – nor has she been formally charged with any misconduct in connection with the controversial emails. Nonetheless, because of her prominent position in the world, Hillary Clinton and her family are held to higher standards, and their activities draw far more scrutiny. Her actions and public perceptions invariably reflect on the Foundation, which as a result is also facing greater scrutiny. It’s scaring people away. One planner for the event told Politico, “They’ve had a lot of rejections from people, both for membership renewals and speaking roles this year…between the campaign, Hillary not being at CGI this year, [it’s] bad press.”
It’s not only individual supporters who are backing away. USA Today reports that six major corporations, including Samsung Electronics, ExxonMobil and Deutsche Banks have stopped donating to the Foundation, while others are becoming “in-kind” rather than cash donors. One corporate donor that has withdrawn its sponsorship is major banking institution HSBC, which was recently targeted in a Clinton attack ad over allegations that the firm laundered money for drug cartels.
Clinton Foundation officials are still upbeat, reporting that they are “extremely pleased with the response to our invitations. This year’s line-up is extremely strong.” And there were those who gave reasons as to why they wouldn’t be attending. One of them is Arianna Huffington, who is attending another conference this weekend – but continues to be an enthusiastic Foundation supporter. She expresses hope that “recent controversies will not limit the foundation’s effectiveness and the incredible work it is doing.” Huffington is also optimistic about the prospect of Chelsea Clinton’s leadership: “Chelsea can appeal to a whole new generation of millennial billionaires and heirs including in the Arab world.”