Americans subsidize the lifestyles of former presidents, because otherwise it would be embarrassing to find George W. Bush taking your order at Wendy's. It's all authorized by Former Presidents Act passed in 1958.
These days, the life of an ex-president is filled with so very many profitable speaking opportunities and consulting gigs that it's absurd to think the Act is still necessary. Nevertheless, it's there, and despite raking in millions after leaving office, the Clintons have been using it to subsidize salaries and purchases that appeared to benefit the Clinton Foundation.
Did the foundation need taxpayer money? Obviously not. But it was all legal for the Clintons to ask for it, and so we have an example of behavior that's likely going to turn out to be completely "permissible," and that's part of what makes it so loathsome.
Politico got the records from the General Services Administration (GSA) through the Freedom of Information Act to determine the Clintons used the Act to subsidize the incomes of some of their staff, even while paying them six-figure salaries through the Clinton Foundation. Politico determined that the Clintons have requested $16 million through the Act since 2001, more than any other living president.
Politico notes that individual staffers didn't get huge sums—about $10,000 annually each out of an annual pool of less than $100,000—but getting that federal salary also gave them access to federal benefits:
The key reason for adding staffers to the GSA payroll, according to two people familiar with the Clintons' staffing arrangements, was that each employee became eligible for full federal employee benefits, including health and life insurance and pensions. The two people familiar with Bill Clinton's staffing said the employees on his GSA payroll almost never received benefits from either the Clinton Foundation or the [Clinton Executive Services Corporation].
As one of the guys at Reason who covers the various pension crises across the country, this is a reminder that while the actual annual payout under the Act is utterly inconsequential when compared to total federal spending, we should be worried about the long-term financial commitments that go on long beyond what taxpayers realize. Yes, this is a drop in the bucket. But the bucket is already full and spilling over.
What makes this information all so very Clintionian (besides the remarkable amounts of money involved) is the challenge the GSA faced when deciding whether to approve expenditures. A lot of time and effort went in trying to determine whether the money requested was Bill Cinton's personal staff and work or for the Clinton Foundation and the overlap between the various roles of people within the Clintons' orbits. As Politico notes, some of the staff paid by the GSA worked for both the Clintons personally (which is what the Act is supposed to be for) and the Clinton Foundation (which it is not). These staffers often had very high salaries (close to $200,000 a year in one case) while getting the federal subsidies.
And yes, money from the GSA was also apparently used to help pay for IT equipment, including servers, though Politico uncovered that in at least one case the GSA declined to pay for a server, determining that it was meant for the Clinton Foundation. Except that a Clinton aide told Politico that actually the GSA did purchase the server, after all, according to their own records. In a perfect distillation of the controversies surrounding the Clintons, it's not clear what's actually true.
Returning to the metaphor of drops in buckets, in other circumstances and for other political figures, this probably wouldn't add up to much. It's so much inside baseball, and there's really no smoking gun. But "It's so much inside baseball, and there's really no smoking gun," is the unofficial motto of Hillary Clinton's campaign and response to criticism at this point. It all looks terrible, given the lack of trust by voters in Clinton, but it all appears to have been perfectly legal and permitted under the law. That would be the beltway-minded defense to these federal subsidies that fails to consider at any point how the average voter might feel about being asked to bankroll the pensions of wealthy, connected Clinton-aides with six-figure salaries.
No wonder support for Clinton continues to plunge.
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