A Short History of the Clinton Foundation
What does the Clinton Foundation do?
If you don’t know the answer, that’s alright. It’s a frequently asked enough question that it’s actually a Google search term, and with the amount of misinformation out there, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction.
For those who want the one sentence summary, I made one. Ok, here goes: At its core, the Clinton Foundation maintains the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock and represents the Clinton family’s charitable interests.
There, I answered the question. But really, the Clinton Foundation is a lot more complex than that simple one sentence summary. After all, not very many foundations are helmed by an ex-President (with a wife who was a former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State as well as a current presidential candidate). Still, President Clinton isn’t the only ex-President with a foundation. All the ex-Presidents have their own foundations, and they mostly have to do with the construction and maintenance of their Presidential libraries, though even they have branched off into other philanthropic endeavors. President Carter’s Carter Center, for instance, does election monitoring in the developing world to check if elections are free and fair. President George W. Bush along with his father, President George H.W. Bush both have foundations dedicated to their Presidential libraries located in the campuses of the Southern Methodist University in University Park, TX near Dallas and Texas A&M University in College Station, TX respectively with President George H.W. Bush's Foundation handing out scholarships to students. Even current Presidents have one. President Obama now has a foundation dedicated to building his library in the South Side of Chicago.
The Clinton Foundation is different, however, in that along with building and maintaining the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, it grew way bigger than other Presidential foundations.
It all started back in 1997 during the second term of the Clinton Administration. Then, like many of his predecessor foundations, they started work raising funds for a Presidential library: the planned Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. I’ll talk about the Clinton Presidential Center later in the book. For those who want to see it right now, here it is!
The architecture is meant to be a bridge, a nod to the oft mentioned goal of the Clinton Presidency: Building a Bridge to the 21st Century.
Back to topic, by 2002, with most of the Clinton Foundation work done as the funds were raised and the Clinton Library was set to open in 2004, President Clinton found himself increasingly bored in his Chappaqua home in Westchester County, NY, just north of New York City. He was no longer President, his wife spent most of her time working in Washington as Senator of New York, and Chelsea was grown and living her life. According to Washington Post reporter, David Farenthold, President Clinton spent most of his time watching TiVo, the then new TV recording technology given to him by director Steven Spielberg. Still, even with his lessened schedule, there was still some stuff to do.
In 2002, the Clinton Foundation moved into its new offices in Harlem. Crowds had gathered welcoming the ex-President to their new neighborhood. There was even a jazz band! Getting situated, the residents of the neighborhood started coming to President Clinton. Small business owners like card shop owner Dee Solomon, and hat boutique owner Evetta Petty went up to the ex-President for help. President Clinton said he would, and he did. He got management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to mentor Harlem shopkeepers on how best to run their businesses. Others came and Foundation aides helped people in other ways like partnering with the Princeton Review to provide SAT test prep and informing people about the earned income tax credit. This program of helping out business and shop owners came to be known as the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Economic Opportunity Initiative (this initiative has been retired but I’ll talk about Clinton Foundation initiatives later in another article of this series on the Clinton Foundation).
In the same year, another major development in the growth of the Foundation came with a plea from Nelson Mandela himself. As President, Clinton promised he would do something for Africa after he left office. Then as now, HIV/AIDS ravaged the continent. New drugs were coming into the market, but unfortunately, the cost of these new life-saving medications was far out of reach for the average African. President Clinton and his aides at the Clinton Foundation came up with the idea of using the Foundation to negotiate lower drug prices for Africa. As told by long-time Clinton adviser, Ira Magaziner, President Clinton told Nelson Mandela of the idea at a summit, and the former South African President’s response was: “Do it.” Thus the Clinton Health Access Initiative, now a spun off organization, was born.
From there, the Clinton Foundation’s mission grew any time President Clinton took an interest in helping to solve a major public problem. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation came in 2005 after the President had his heart bypass surgery. He also took an interest in a vegan lifestyle after that as well. The Clinton Climate Initiative was created in 2006 as part of the solution to help mitigate the effects of climate change and global warming. The Clinton Foundation in Haiti was set up to help that Caribbean country rebuild after a 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti. But the Clinton Foundation’s mission also grew from the ideas of Foundation aides.
The Clinton Global Initiative
The genesis of CGI came when the President’s then top aide, Doug Band, noticed a set of powerful people and celebrities who palled along with the ex-President on a trip to Davos, Switzerland. Chevy Chase, John Cusack, the former presidents of Brazil and Mexico, and the founders of Google were all on a private jet headed to the World Economic Forum where they were set to discuss world problems and ways to solve it, and the aide, Band, thought that the President didn’t need to wait for Davos to discuss these issues.
And that’s what the Clinton Global Initiative does: it's like a think tank and meeting place where the wealthy, the powerful, and the famous as well as everyday people could meet up and not just meet up but make commitments and pledges to help make the world a better place. The main CGI meeting occurs in September coinciding when the UN holds their General Assembly in New York. I didn’t actually know much about CGI or the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) for that matter until after I did research for my book, The Benghazi Affair: A Hillary Clinton Parody. Now that I do, I can report that commitments by CGI members total up to $2.5 billion dollars through the years — years that also brought many changes to the Clinton Foundation.
The Obama Administration and Chelsea Clinton
After losing the presidential nomination to then Senator Obama, Hillary Clinton had been picked by the President-elect as his Secretary of State. But the President-elect also had his preconditions.
The Obama Administration asked to spin off The Clinton Global Initiative into its own organization, which has since been brought back into the Clinton Foundation after Secretary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State was over. Donors also had to be listed, which was dutifully done — keeping in mind that no other Presidential foundation had to do such a thing.
In 2011, Chelsea Clinton joined the family’s namesake foundation. Articles have been written about Chelsea’s friction with then Clinton aide, Doug Band, but as with any workplace, there can be a bit of office politics going on. Chelsea did see the Clinton Foundation had become a bit inefficient and not working as best as it could so she sought to add her management consultancy experience to her dad’s foundation.
Offices were consolidated from three locations to one with the main offices moving from Harlem to midtown New York. A self-professed “data geek,” Chelsea used analytics to measure the progress and commitments made by donors, and she spearheaded a $250 million dollar endowment drive for the Clinton Foundation. Chelsea also has added to the Clinton Foundation’s mission including working to end elephant poaching, prison reform, and encouraging the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) to lower prices for diarrhea medication (to help combat diarrhea among children, the second leading cause of death of children under 5 in the developing world) as the organization had done for HIV/AIDS medication. A year before joining the Clinton Foundation, Chelsea got married to businessman Marc Mezvinsky, and before that, abandoned vegetarianism and returning to an omnivore’s diet. At age 29, Chelsea said she woke up one day and craved red meat and the fried chicken of her youth after being a vegetarian for ten years and a pescatarian for eight (pescatarians can eat fish and eggs along with a vegetarian diet).
Hillary Joins the Foundation . . . But Not for Long
Hillary Clinton joined the Clinton Foundation, in an unpaid position by the way — both President and Secretary Clintons have never drawn a salary from the Clinton Foundation, shortly after finishing up her four years as Secretary of State. In 2013 and 2014, as a continuation to Hillary’s lifelong work to advance the rights of women and girls, the former Secretary of State added two initiatives to the Clinton Foundation’s mission: the No Ceilings Project: to measure the progress of women around the world, a statistic never before been measured and Too Small to Fail: an initiative to spread the word for parents and corporations on best practices on how to raise children aged 0 to 5, one of the most important periods in a child’s development.
Of course, Secretary Clinton had to step down in her role in the Clinton Foundation as she’s running for President. The election season, however, has unfortunately brought criticism and outright falsehoods and aspersions on the Clinton Foundation, something this article and the others in this series hopes to put to bed as well as highlight the incredible work the Clinton Foundation has done for people in America and all over the world.