The Clinton Foundation has come intense media scrutiny partly as a result of donations it received from countries with anti-LGBT laws and questions of “pay-for-play” at the State Department, but LGBT advocates are defending the organization, asserting it has worked to advance human rights.
The criticism has dogged Clinton as she pursues her bid for the White House and seeks to differentiate herself from Donald Trump, whose campaign has trafficked in racism — and sometimes violence — as he has staked out anti-LGBT positions in his presidential campaign.
Chief among the countries with anti-LGBT laws donating to the Clinton Foundation is Saudi Arabia, which donated between $10-$25 million to the organization. Saudi Arabia punishes acts of homosexuality with death, imprisonment, fines, corporal punishment or flogging.
The Clinton Foundation accepted at least $25.5 million from nine countries that punish gay people with incarceration and the death penalty. Other countries with anti-LGBT laws that have contributed to the Clinton Foundation are Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Brunei, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Bahrain.
Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, seized on the donations as evidence that Clinton isn’t as supportive of LGBT rights as she would like LGBT people to believe.
“Besides the unethical optics of the personal foundation of a secretary of state and presidential aspirant accepting financial contributions from foreign countries, a candidate who espouses herself as a bastion of LGBT equality taking money from nations where gay people aren’t just looked down upon, but executed by the state is the height of hypocrisy,” Angelo said.
The surge in media scrutiny is mostly the result of emails made public by the conservative anti-LGBT group Judicial Watch raising questions about whether donors to the Clinton Foundation enjoyed special access at the State Department.
One email exchange revealed Clinton had a meeting with the Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain, who reportedly donated $32 million to the Clinton Foundation. The crown prince apparently requested the meeting through the Clinton Foundation, which used Clinton adviser Huma Abedin as a conduit to get to Clinton. (The email exchange reveals Abedin said Salman also “asked to see HRC thurs and fri thru normal channels.”) Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell also met with the crown prince during their tenures as secretary of state.
The Associated Press reported at least 85 of the 154 people who met or had phone conversations with Clinton at the State Department were donors to the Clinton Foundation. Although the media outlet has been criticized for the 154 number because Clinton met with thousands of people at the State Department, the AP hasn’t issued a correction on the basis that meetings with U.S. federal employees or foreign government representatives would presumably have been part of her diplomatic duties.
An ABC News investigation revealed Abedin emailed an updated seating list for a 2011 state dinner with Chinese President Hu Jintao to then-Clinton Foundation official Doug Rule after he sent an email to her with the names of donors wanting better seats at the event. The actual seating list hasn’t been made public.
Last week, Clinton defended the work of the Clinton Foundation during a telephone interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, insisting donations to the organization didn’t influence her.
“My work as secretary of state was not influenced by any outside forces. I made policy decisions based on what I thought was right,” Clinton said. “I know there’s a lot of smoke and there’s no fire.”
On its website, the Clinton Foundation touts its work in building partnerships to enhance global health, combat climate change, boost economic development and health and wellness and improving opportunity for girls and women. Among its stated achievements is ensuring 11.5 million people in more than 70 countries have access to lower cost HIV/AIDS medications.
Clinton during her time as secretary of state “was not involved” in the work of the foundation, but attended the annual meetings of the Clinton Global Initiative, an arm of the foundation that convenes global leaders, according to the website. But after leaving the Obama administration, Clinton served on the board, the website says. A look at Clinton’s tax returns reveals she didn’t take a salary from the Clinton Foundation.
And despite the donations to the Clinton Foundation from countries with anti-LGBT laws, Clinton has a record at the State Department of advancing international LGBT rights as secretary of state, including a high-profile 2011 speech in Geneva in which she declared “gay rights are human rights.”
“To LGBT men and women worldwide, let me say this: Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone,” Clinton said during the speech. “People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face. That is certainly true for my country.”
Based on emails from Clinton made public during her tenure at the State Department, Clinton had an interest behind the scenes in international LGBT issues, including efforts to stop Uganda from enacting an “Anti-Homosexuality Law” that would have instituted the death penalty for homosexual acts. In response to an article about anti-LGBT human rights abuses in Iraq, Clinton wrote, “We should emphasize LGBT human rights.”
Mark Harrington, an HIV/AIDS advocate and executive director for the Treatment Action Group, said the Clinton Foundation — through its arm known as the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative — “has been a vital partner” in ensuring access to low-cost HIV/AIDS medication.
“As a result of CHAI’s work during President Obama’s first term, while the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief budget actually declined, the program was able to quadruple the number of people on antiretrovirals from 1.5 to 6 million, largely due to increasing use of generic drugs whose manufacture was coordinated by CHAI,” Harrington said. “There’s no question that without its involvement fewer people would be on effective HIV therapy and that it would cost far more.”
Leading the charge for the Associated Press to correct its assertion that more than half of Clinton’s meetings at the State Department were with Clinton Foundation donors is John Aravosis, a New York-based gay blogger and editor of AMERICAblog. Aravosis has set up a petition calling for the change, which as of Wednesday had 1,731 signatures.
“It is fair to do this investigation,” Aravosis said on MSNBC. “It is not fair to then try to trump up charges — to use the word — when there’s no proof of any wrongdoing, especially when you’ve got an organization that has done so much good.”
Nonetheless, concern about the Clinton Foundation and its influence on the candidate has emerged even among progressives. Russ Feingold, who’s seeking to win back the seat representing Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate that he lost in 2010, said last week the Clinton Foundation may need to shut down if she is elected president.
“If it would in any way harm the credibility of the Clinton administration, I don’t think it’s worth having it, because the credibility and accountability of the president has to be first,” Feingold said, according to media reports.
On Tuesday, The New York Times editorial board called for the Clintons — starting immediately — to scale back the activities of the Clinton Foundation, saying Bill and Hillary Clinton “should both end their operational involvement in the foundation and its affiliates for the duration of her presidency, relinquishing any control over spending, hiring and board appointments.”
Earlier this month, Bill Clinton said in a statement if his wife were to win the White House, he would step down from the Clinton Foundation board and stop all fundraising for it. Additionally, the foundation has declared it would also accept donations only from U.S. citizens and independent philanthropies, while Clinton is president and no longer take gifts from foreign groups, U.S. companies or corporate charities.
Glenn Greenwald, a gay journalist known for detailing U.S. surveillance activities based on documents from Edward Snowden, wrote for The Intercept that despite the human rights advances of the Clinton Foundation, questions are still valid on why countries with anti-LGBT laws contributed to the organization.
“Which is actually more homophobic: Questioning the Clinton Foundation’s lucrative relationship to those intensely anti-gay regimes, or cheering and defending that relationship?” Greenwald writes. “All the evidence points to the latter. But whatever else is true, it is a blatant insult to everyone’s intelligence to claim that the motive of these regimes in transferring millions to the Clinton Foundation is a selfless desire to help them in their noble work.”
The embassies in the United States for the aforementioned countries with anti-LGBT laws that donated to the Clinton Foundation couldn’t be reached for comment, didn’t respond to a request for comment or had no comment.
Olivia Alair Dalton, the Human Rights Campaign’s senior vice president of communications and marketing, said the Clinton Foundation “undeniably” has accomplished important work across the globe, including HIV/AIDS care.
“As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton made LGBTQ equality part of U.S. foreign policy, saving countless lives in the process,” Dalton said. “And today, she has laid out the most robust LGBTQ platform of any major presidential candidate in history. There isn’t the slightest doubt she will continue to be a champion for LGTBQ equality every day she sits in the Oval Office. Meanwhile the Trump-Pence ticket continues to be the biggest threat of any presidential ticket in modern history to LGBTQ people — both here in the U.S. and abroad.”