Clinton Foundation Contributions, A Denominator

The Associated Press seems apoplectic: Many donors to Clinton Foundation met with her at State. Stephen Braun and Eileen Sullivan write:

At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs, according to a review of State Department calendars released so far to The Associated Press. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.

A friend emails to say, “More of that classic Clinton hubris.”

To be fair to Hillary Clinton, almost all of her political mistakes are procedural or failing to be on an ethical safe side. As opposed to Bill Clinton’s mistakes or any policy or ideological disagreements you may have with her.

And that’s what this AP report looks like at first blush. We don’t know that she was doing quid pro quos. Just because 50% of the people who met with her gave money looks bad, but it doesn’t actually show anything. The folks involved might have even thought they needed to give money to get seen, but could have been wrong! And then the mistake is more mild, Hillary Clinton probably should have disabused people of this notion, sure.

To build a case of corruption, I’d like to know what was the rate of people giving to the foundation who got to see her? If it’s a small number than I am really not that impressed. When did they give? Maybe these people were thanking her (tipping?) by giving this money rather than buying access. That might not be cool but it’s way less bad than the Secretary of State having a price list.

I don’t think information on contribution timings is public or even the number of donors, but we can easily examine the Clinton Foundation’s annual contributions. And that will give us a kind of denominator to gauge what might have been going on.

Clinton Foundation Annual Contributions, 2009–12

2009    $82,929,937
2010    166,315,275
2011    117,418,783
2012    113,199,518
TOTAL  $479,863,513

The AP report says $156m was contributed to the foundation by folks who visited Clinton while she was Secretary of State. If I’m reading the foundation’s reports correctly1, they received about $480m in contributions (unrestricted plus restricted) while Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State.

It’s a little awkward to say (and think through too), but let’s do the math because that’s easy. A third of of the money donated to the foundation ended up in meetings (32.5% to be precise).

While we can’t say something straightforward like a third of donors got to meet with Clinton (presumably there were many small donors so the average gift is lower than the average gift examined by the AP), 32.5% is a higher rate of money receiving an audience than I would’ve guessed.

I mean this is Wade Boggs territory (.3279 lifetime batting average).

Still, it’s not evidence on its own of quid pro quos. It’s just gross.

Parting Thought

While Clintons are beset by a vast right-wing conspiracy and have been for a longtime2, they really seem to be unable to stop themselves from providing the ammo to be used against them.

This is too bad. The stakes in 2016 are so high.

Hey reader, make sure to read the next post too: Case Selection and Bias in Clinton Foundation Coverage. I try to clarify some things.

  1. tbh we should not assume this. 

  2. Only Batman has a larger gallery of villians. 

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