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Is Clinton Foundation a problem for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy?

Hillary Clinton, second from left, smiles as she

Hillary Clinton, second from left, smiles as she reads a book with Jose Gomez, left, his brother Dario, right, and their mother Jessica Garcia at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) in Oakland, Calif., Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Clinton spoke at an Oakland hospital event, which was sponsored by the Clinton Foundation and other community groups, to encourage parents to talk, sing and read to their young children. (AP Photo/Pool) Photo Credit: AP

Critics say Donald Trump’s campaign is too cozy with Russia, but Hillary Clinton may have problems of her own. Critics charge that foreign governments gained access to Clinton when she served as secretary of state by making donations to a charity, the Clinton Foundation, overseen by her family. Clinton says the foundation will stop taking foreign donations if she’s president, but Republican critics have called for the organization to be shut down entirely.

Is the Clinton Foundation a problem for Clinton? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.

JOEL MATHIS

With Bill and Hillary Clinton, as always, there’s a thin line between “kind of gross” and “clearly wrong.” And so it is with Clinton Foundation.

Hillary Clinton’s defenders say the Clinton Foundation does tremendous, life-saving work - and they’re right. But that doesn’t mean the charity isn’t a problem for her.

Why?

It’s pretty well accepted that appearances of a conflict of interest can be just as bad in public life as actual conflicts. So if you’re secretary of state and foreign countries - standing to benefit in a variety of ways, financial and otherwise, from U.S. policy - are pumping millions of dollars into your husband’s charitable foundation, well of course it looks like a potential problem. And if you’re running for president and all these foreign countries, as well as big corporations, keep being eager to donate, well of course that looks like a potential problem as well.

Here’s the thing: The Clintons, fair or not, have to walk a much, much tighter ethical line than everybody else. Because the public is primed to see them as acting unethically. And while they’re not as bad as Republicans make them out to be, it’s also the case that they legitimately screw up now and again, giving new life to all the rest of it. Bill really did lie to a grand jury about his sex life; Hillary really did handle her emails poorly and then really did exaggerate in suggesting the FBI had exonerated her.

Now: Damon Linker, a writer at The Week, points out that Hillary Clinton’s critics haven’t actually found a smoking gun in all of this, no evidence of a quid pro quo in which money was exchanged for services.

But Americans have the right not to have to guess whether or not that’s the case, and have the right to expect a potential president to go far above and beyond the minimum necessary to keep his or her house in order.

The funny thing is: She’s still the better presidential candidate this fall. Donald Trump is just that dangerous. The temptation is to give her a free pass as a result - but that wouldn’t be right. We need accountability from all our candidates.

BEN BOYCHUK

She’s crooked, you know. Donald Trump, for all his terrible bluster and braggadocio, is surely right about that.

Hillary Clinton was reckless with national security secrets when she was secretary of state and has been utterly shameless when it comes to telling the truth. And little by little, voters are learning that she likely used her family’s foundation to trade access to the State Department for hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of dollars in donations.

Trump is a bit more cavalier than responsible journalists would be in describing what Clinton allegedly did as secretary of state. Then again, supposedly responsible mainstream journalists have been far behind the curve when it comes to investigating the Clinton Foundation.

Well, they’re catching up now. The Associated Press recently reported, “At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs.”

“Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million,” the AP story continued. “At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.”

Did those donors get anything for their gifts other than access? We don’t know yet. But access to the secretary of state isn’t trivial.

One of those donors, Gilbert Chagoury, has pledged $1 billion to the Clinton Global Initiative. Chagoury is a Nigerian billionaire who was forced by the Nigerian government to pay nearly $300 million in 1998 to avoid prosecution for his allegedly corrupt ties to former dictator Sani Abacha. He’s also a business partner of Marc Rich, a fugitive who won a pardon from President Bill Clinton on his last day in office in 2001 for his business deals with America’s enemies in Iran, North Korea and Cuba.

By the way, it’s unclear just how much “life-saving work” the Clinton Foundation does. Charity Navigator doesn’t offer a rating, positive or negative, citing the foundation’s “atypical business model.” According to the group’s IRS disclosures, however, nearly 60 percent of the foundation’s expenditures in 2014 went toward salaries, benefits, travel and conferences.

“It is impossible to figure out where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins,” Trump said in Austin, Texas, this week. Let’s hope voters have a better idea before Election Day.

Joel Mathis an award-winning writer in Kansas. Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness.

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