Truth, justice, and the American Way can be abbreviated as fairness: we are nothing if not a generally fair-minded people. Our fellow Americans in Queens, New York did us all proud at a recent Kanye West concert. Thirty minutes late to the show and 20 minutes before the end of his set, Kanye got word of what he called “a family emergency” and ended the concert mid-song to rush off stage. It seems that flashing bazillions in jewels on social media carries some risk, and Kim Kardashian had been held at gunpoint in Paris whilst being relieved of said jewels.
Yet the good people at Meadows Festival did not revolt; they left in “peaceful waves of complacency” and “a cloud of shock and worry” for the West family. It was only fair; any one of them would have reacted the same way if notified of a family emergency at work. We the American people stand ready to be fair.
We the American electorate also stand ready to make fair-minded judgments about our would-be presidents: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. All we need is an equitable, apples-to-apples comparison of the two. How handy that they both operate fundraising entities. That should work.
The Clinton Foundation began as a public charity in 1997 and spawned the glitzy Clinton Global Initiative in 2005 “to turn ideas into action.” Donald Trump created an eponymous private foundation in 1988 with the original purpose of giving away proceeds from “Trump: The Art of the Deal.” Today it makes grants to other charities with (mostly) other people’s money.
Between 2009 and 2012, the Clinton Foundation raised more than $500,000; between 2009 and 2013, the Trump Foundation gave $5.5 million dollars to 298 charities. Because the IRS sets different filing rules for public versus private charities, no apples-to-apples comparison between the foundations’ financial performance is possible. The next best apples are clarity of purpose and transparency.
Neither Trump Nor Clinton’s Charities Are Devoid of Mystery
The purpose of the Donald J. Trump Foundation came under scrutiny recently when it was discovered that in 2016, the entity had raised more than $25,000 in New York without proper registration according to state law. New York’s attorney general sent a “notice of violation” to the Trump Foundation calling for the immediate cessation of all solicitation and fundraising activity in New York. The foundation has 15 days from the date of the letter, September 30, to submit requested documentation to the Attorney General’s Office. The AG’s review will determine whether the Trump Foundation can operate as a legitimate charity in New York.
The purpose of the Clinton Foundation is ostensibly charity, and it receives high marks from Charity Navigator, an independent charity watchdog organization that evaluates charitable organizations in the United States. If this is the case, however, why from 2009 to 2012 was only 15 percent of the $500 million dollars raised expended on charitable donations?
That’s easy, say the Clintons. Most of our charitable work is done in-house by salaried employees of the foundation so the amounts aren’t reflected in tax forms. Well, that clears things up. Or would. But for the emphatic declaration by the CEO of the Clinton Health Access Initiative that “This is not charity. The whole thing is bankable. It’s a commercial proposition.”
So, purpose? Not clear in either case.
Both foundations have spent some time on the shady side. In 2013, the Trump Foundation made an illegal contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi at the same time her office was investigating allegations of fraud against Trump University. Trump insisted there was no connection and called the donation “an inadvertent mistake.” It is unclear how someone who claims to “understand the tax laws better than almost anyone” could “inadvertently” make a donation in violation of tax regulations, but stranger things have happened. The Trump Foundation paid a $2500 penalty to the IRS.
In 2010, in violation of an ethics agreement struck during Hillary Clinton’s confirmation as secretary of state, the Clinton Foundation failed to submit a donation of $500 million dollars from Algeria to the State Department for approval. When the violation came to light five years later—long after the check had been cashed and Secretary Clinton had met with the Algerian prime minister—she dismissed it as a rare example of “instances that slipped through the cracks.” Oops. I hate it when that happens. Especially to the tune of $500 million.
Transparency? No clear winner here either. Fairness doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere.
Clinton Foundation ‘Factchecking’ Covers Its Tracks
Fortunately, there are always some Americans for whom fairness is optional. These Americans use fairness only as the means to an end, and only by exploiting the impulse to fairness in the rest of us. These Americans, in the guise of journalists and fact-checkers, purport to bring us fair analysis but in fact are stacking the deck in favor of their political ideology. Case in point: PunditFact’s recent analysis of the Clinton Foundation’s charitable giving as a percentage of total money raised.
Rush Limbaugh stated on his radio show in April last year that the Clinton Foundation donates only 15 percent of the cash it raises to charity. After their own unique brand of fact-checking, PunditFact breathlessly concluded that Limbaugh’s claim was “mostly false.”
Despite frank acknowledgment that the claim was “clearly accurate” and “technically true,” they published their ‘mostly false’ rating. Why? Because ideology is more important than fairness. Fact-checker Louis Jacobson wrote that because “[T]he foundation says it does most of its charitable work in-house…it’s not credible to think that the foundation spent zero dollars beyond grants on any charitable work, which is what it would take for Limbaugh to be correct” (emphasis added).
Only One Foundation Trades Government Access
Fairness doesn’t take what anyone says at face value, and it certainly doesn’t think through facts to reach a particular conclusion. But as PunditFact is counting on, many fair-minded Americans will believe their “check” and reach a conclusion about the Clinton Foundation that is clearly inaccurate and technically untrue.
Lest any stragglers persist in the clearly accurate and technically true fact that the Clinton Foundation gives only 15 percent of the money it raises to charity, PolitiFact is there for the political ideology assist. If PolitiFact also determines that the foundation is above-board, that’s like two positive reviews on Yelp.
PolitiFact purports to fact-check the pay-to-play assertion that the Clinton juggernaut grants government access in return for hefty donations. “We’re here to help you sort out the truth,” they reassure us in a “just the facts, Ma’am” tone. But between the reassurance and the result, political ideology slips its nose into the tent. Consider the first sentence of one cherry-picked analysis, which is subliminal enough to qualify for the Don Draper award: “For Republicans, the Clinton Foundation offers endless opportunities to cast Hillary Clinton as too cozy with the world’s elites” (emphasis added).
Translation: Only the Republicans are concerned about this; Republicans have a hidden agenda; Republicans make mountains out of molehills based on their agenda. An ostensibly objective analysis begins with assumptions that lie outside the realm of verification. Beauty.
One would expect analysis of a pay-to-play operation to involve who gave what when, and what they were given in return. One would be wrong. Nowhere in PolitiFact’s fact-check do they report what the Clinton Foundation’s CEO openly admitted: “there is no question there were phone calls made to get appointments for people.” PolitiFact also failed to mention the 700 emails tied to Clinton’s private server that show certain foundation donors were given access to State Department functions. How is that a fact-check?
Fair-minded Americans mistakenly rely on organizations like PunditFact and PolitiFact to help them “sort out the truth.” Who has time to fact-check the fact-checkers? That’s what the fact-checkers are counting on.
And that’s not fair.
Note: the Attorney General of New York who filed suit against Trump University in 2013 is the same attorney general of New York who issued the Trump Foundation a cease and desist letter this week, but that’s almost certainly coincidence. Also surely pure coincidence is the fact that the NY AG donated the maximum personal contribution allowed to Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year, hosted a fundraiser for her in June, and serves on her New York “leadership council.” It perhaps is not a coincidence that he did not require the Clinton Health Access Initiative to publicly disclose gifts from foreign governments. One never knows about these things.
Correction: The correct amount of Algeria’s unreported Clinton Foundation donation has been changed to $500,000.