It may not have been illegal or even unethical, but on the surface, it looks a little fishy. And, unfortunately, it has given Trump and his GOP sycophants more grist for their anti-Hillary mill. It turns out that a total of 85 people who had personal access to Ms. Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State also gave large sums of money to the Clinton Foundation.

How large? Almost half of the donors wrote checks in excess of $100,000 to the Foundation – and 20 of them forked over more than a million apiece. The total contributions came to around $156 million, according a story published in the Associated Press.

Individual contributors included a Wall Street banker looking for assistance with a visa, and an executive of a major cosmetics company involved with combating violence against women in South Africa. Technically, nothing about these meetings violated any legal agreements signed by Clinton and her husband when she took the position of Madame Secretary at the beginning of President Obama’s first term. Unfortunately, the connections between these meetings and subsequent donations by those with whom she met are giving the public the impression that Secretary Clinton was running a “pay-to-play” operation when it came to giving individuals her time and attention.

Founded in 1997, the Clinton Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the improvement of health and well-being among the people of the world as well as providing greater educational and economic opportunities for women and girls and addressing the issues of global climate change. For the most part, the Foundation works through partnerships with private and public institutions as well as individuals who share its vision and goals.

Despite its lofty and admirable mission, the Clinton Foundation has taken a lot of heat during this election cycle because of some of the sources of its donations. For example, shortly after Hillary Clinton assumed her office as Secretary of State, she was contacted by a Swiss government official regarding UBS – arguably one of the most corrupt, yet powerful financial institutions on the planet. UBS had drawn scrutiny from the IRS regarding a large number of secret bank accounts held by US citizens in violation of federal law. A few months after that meeting, UBS reached a settlement with the IRS – and over the next few years, the Clinton Foundation received a number of large donations from the Swiss banking juggernaut.

That’s only one example of the Clinton Foundation receiving large donations from questionable sources that have included defense industry players such as Boeing and Lockheed-Martin and corrupt, authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia (go here to hear Ed Schultz’s recent report.)

Nobody will argue that the Clinton Foundation does a great deal of good in the world. However, not everyone agrees with the quote, often attributed to Italian Renaissance philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli, that “the ends justify the means.” And in this election year, with so much at stake, it would behoove Hillary Clinton to remember that no matter how good one’s intentions may be, one will invariably be judged on appearances and the company one keeps.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.