Politics

GOP Takes Aim at Clinton Through Charitable Foundation

Bill would prohibit contributions tied to foreign governments

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A little-noticed Republican bill that would ban gifts by foreigners to charitable foundations is a clear swipe at Hillary Clinton.

The legislation by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, would prohibit foundations with ties to former public officials, as well as presidents and vice presidents, from accepting contributions from individuals connected to foreign governments.

Although the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is not mentioned by name in the legislation, an acronym drawn from the bill’s title — Contributions Legally Interdicted from Noncitizens to Our Nonprofits — spells out CLINTON.

"The corruptive influence of foreign money on our elected officials is evident, and we need to close this loophole,” Gohmert said in a written statement.

The bill, introduced on June 24, so far only has one co-sponsor: Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas. It is unlikely to go anywhere this year, given the partisan tensions in Congress and the truncated schedule because of the November elections.

But it is part of a broader Republican effort to add an odor of wrongdoing to the foundation run by the Clinton family, which operates a wide range of programs on issues such as global health, climate change and increasing opportunities for women and girls. The foundation and its many initiatives have raised $2 billion and have a combined annual budget of more than $223 million, according to The Washington Post.

A spokesman for the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the Clinton presidential campaign.

Some Democrats say Clinton, who stepped down from the foundation’s board when she launched her presidential bid, has done enough to distance herself from the charitable organization and its donors. They criticize Gohmert for singling out Clinton.

“These partisan Republicans can’t help themselves. They are one oversight committee away from an oversight committee on what Hillary Clinton has for breakfast,” said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, a member of the Democratic leadership team and a longtime Clinton ally.

Presidential Libraries, Study Centers

The bill would require groups connected to former public officials — including Cabinet officers, senior staff and federal judges — to forfeit their tax-exempt status as a penalty for accepting cash from individuals connected to foreign governments. The ban would be permanent for nonprofits run by former presidents and vice presidents and cover other officials who have been out of office for 20 years.

After a 30-day waiting period for mandatory refunds, such charities also would face an excise tax matching any foreign gifts they elect to keep.

Stanley M. Brand, an ethics lawyer and a former House general counsel under Speaker Tip O’Neill, said the proposal could run into political problems in both parties. He said it would prevent foreign gifts to nonprofits created by presidents to finance their libraries and those founded by lawmakers to pay for study centers and other programs.

“I don’t see how it will pass. I think fooling around with the IRS is dicey without a broader look at donations to charitable organizations,” Brand said.

The Clinton Foundation has been under greater scrutiny since the former secretary of State began running for president last year. Foreign governments, as well as companies with ties to them, have supported the foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, one of its many affiliates.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, are among the critics of foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation.

In April 2015, the Clinton Foundation announced Hillary Clinton stepped down from its board and revised its policies to include quarterly disclosure of its donors. The foundation said it would only accept donations from six countries — Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Britain — that have contributed to the foundation’s programs.

As part of the new policies, the foundation said the Clinton Global Initiative would not hold any international conferences or accept contributions or sponsorships from foreign governments, except for meeting attendance fees.

Gohmert, who declined to be interviewed for this story, explained his reasoning for the bill in his written statement.

“These donations are problematic, not only because they raise a question of whether foreign governments and nationals essentially bought access, but also because it creates the potential for a massive conflict of interest in the conduct of our nation's foreign policy,” he said.

Hearing or No?

Top Republicans say the bill should be given its due.

“It sounds like it has merit to me,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas. “The conflict of interest is pretty obvious.”

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, echoed Cornyn’s concerns but stopped short of supporting the bill. He said the committee could hold a hearing, but suggested another panel might take the lead.

The bill was referred to the Ways and Means Committee, which has been busy trying to address international tax issues and move legislation aimed for a year-end package.  Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam, R-Ill., said he’d be “happy to take a look at” the Gohmert bill but no decision has been made on any hearings.

Israel said the public, and even some Republicans, may not have the appetite for another round of hearings about Clinton.

“Louie Gohmert’s partisan hatred for Hillary Clinton is his business. But when it actually harms groups ... who rely on international donations, it becomes very dangerous,” Israel said. “A lot of these institutions and libraries perform an important public service, whether they are initiated by a Democrat or a Republican.”

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