The 'Clinton System' of Selling Access to Bad Guys

NYRoB article details the power couple's dirty-Davos-style fundraising machinery


In: Having Bill do influence-peddling for the shitty president of Kazakhstan. Out: Allowing this movie to be aired on cable before an election. ||| Citizens United
Citizens United

One of the many ironies of Hillary Clinton campaigning heavily on her opposition to the Supreme Court's 5-4 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in 2010 is that the Clinton family's money machine, through her political activities and also the nonprofit Clinton Foundation, are arguably far more murky, extensive, and potentially corrupting than any other candidate's campaign-finance operation.

The overlaps and potential conflicts of interest between the foundation and Hillary's turn as secretary of state are large enough to account for their own journalistic sub-genre; here's one follow-the-money exercise from the Washington Post, and a quick interpretative column by Steve Chapman. To that add this big new pile from Simon Head at The New York Review of Books, which does not prove that Secretary Clinton based her decisions on Clinton Foundation fundraising, but rather tosses out a series of large juxtapositions designed to make you go hmmm:

During Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state, US defense corporations and their overseas clients also contributed between $54 and $141 million to the Clinton Foundation. (Because the foundation discloses a range of values within which the contributions of particular donors might fall, only minimum and maximum estimates can be given.) In the same period, these US defense corporations and their overseas government clients also paid a total of $625,000 to Bill Clinton in speaking fees.

In March 2011, for example, Bill Clinton was paid $175,000 by the Kuwait America Foundation to be the guest of honor and keynote speaker at its annual Washington gala. Among the sponsors were Boeing and the government of Kuwait, through its Washington embassy. Shortly before, the State Department, under Hillary Clinton, had authorized a $693 million deal to provide Kuwait with Boeing's Globemaster military transport aircraft. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton had the statutory duty to rule on whether proposed arms deals with foreign governments were in the US's national interest.

Further research done by Sirota and Perez of International Business Times and based on US government and Clinton Foundation data shows that during her term the State Department authorized $165 billion in commercial arms sales to twenty nations that had given money to the Clinton Foundation. These include the governments of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Algeria, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, all of whose records on human rights had been criticized by the State Department itself. During Hillary Clinton's years as secretary of state, arms sales to the countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation ran at nearly double the value of sales to the same nations during George W. Bush's second term. There was also an additional $151 billion worth of armaments sold to sixteen nations that had donated funds to the Clinton Foundation; these were deals organized by the Pentagon but which could only be completed with Hillary Clinton's authorization as secretary of state. They were worth nearly one and a half times the value of equivalent sales during Bush's second term.

There's so much data and activity here that it can make your eyes glaze over, which may be the point—no use having one or two big potential conflicts of interest when you can get away with 20 or 200. But even in a world where all of this stuff is and should be legal, and where the juxtapositions are just coincidences, the milieu that it depicts is a foul-smelling crony capitalism factory by which the corrupt one percent of the one percent of the one percent try to exchange their bottomless dollars for even more precious access to Western respectability.

Take this NYRoB example of how a Canadian oil tycoon and the lousy president of illiberal Kazakhstan consummated their relationship at the altar of Bill Clinton, to the detriment of those who would prefer multilateral institutions to be free of tinpot tyrants:

You stay classy, Bill Clinton! ||| Reuters

Among the most important, and lucrative, business friendships the Clintons have formed through the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiatives has been that with Canadian energy billionaire Frank Giustra. A major donor to the foundation for many years, Giustra became a member of its board and since 2007 has been co-sponsor of the Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative, or CGGI. In turn, Bill Clinton's political influence and personal contacts with foreign heads of state have been crucial to Giustra's international business interests.

In September 2005, Bill Clinton and Giustra travelled to Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan, to meet with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. At their meeting Clinton told Nazarbayev that he would support Kazakhstan's bid to become chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE is a body with the responsibility for verifying, among other things, the fairness of elections among member states. According to multiple sources, including the BBC, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, Nazarbayev coveted this position for Kazakhstan, primarily as a mark of European diplomatic respectability for his country and himself.

Clinton's endorsement of the Kazakh bid was truly bizarre in view of Kazakhstan's ranking by Transparency International as among the most corrupt countries in the world—126th, on a par with Pakistan, Belarus, and Honduras. Freedom House in New York judges Kazakhstan to be "not free," with Nazarbayev clocking up Soviet-era margins of victory of 90 percent or more in Kazakh presidential elections. Yet in a December 2005 letter to Nazarbayev following one of his landslide victories, Bill Clinton wrote: "Recognizing that your work has received an excellent grade is one of the most important rewards in life." It is unclear what influence, if any, Bill Clinton's support for Nazarbayev may have had in Kazakhstan's efforts to lead the OSCE, but in 2007, after the United States gave its backing to the bid, Kazakhstan was chosen as the next chair of the OSCE, a position it assumed in 2010.

Possible reasons for Clinton's support become clearer when we scrutinize the activities of Frank Giustra. In a January 31, 2008 article in The New York Times, Jo Becker and Don Van Natta, Jr., provided detailed evidence that Nazarbayev brought his influence to bear to enable Giustra to beat out better-qualified competitors for a stake in Kazakhstan's uranium mines worth $350 million. In an interview with the TimesMoukhtar Dzakishev, then chair of the state-owned nuclear holding company Kazatomprom, confirmed that Giustra had met with Nazarbayev in Almaty, that Giustra had told the dictator he was trying to do business with Kazatomprom, and that he was told in return, "Very good, go to it."

The deal was closed within forty-eight hours of Clinton's departure from Almaty. Following this successful visit to Central Asia, Giustra donated $31 million to the Clinton Foundation. He then made a further donation of $100 million to the foundation in June 2008.

In an interview with David Remnick for a September 2006 New Yorker profile on Clinton's post-presidency, Giustra described how his ties to Clinton could work for him and his interests. With Bill Clinton at that moment riding aboard his private executive jet for a journey across Africa ("complete with leather furniture and a stateroom," according to The New Yorker), Giustra told Remnick that "all of my chips, almost, are on Bill Clinton. He's a brand, a worldwide brand, and he can do things and ask for things that no one else can."

Gee, I wonder why a surprising number of Democrats are flocking to an idealistic geezer who actually believes that stuff about money corrupting politics? You don't have to agree with Bernie Sanders on that point to conclude that, at minimum, the Clintons' fundraising machinery has been unseemly, and worthy of several yellow flags. What did you do in the private sector, mommy and daddy? Oh, you know, for-hire favors for the president of Kazakhstan, that kind of thing.