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A Tale Of Two Foundations

One of these things is not like the other.

CREDIT: AP Images/Composite
CREDIT: AP Images/Composite

Both of the major candidates for president, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are associated with foundations.

Hillary Clinton has faced consistent scrutiny for her role in the Clinton Foundation, which was established after Bill Clinton left office. The foundation focuses on global health, climate change, improving opportunities for girls and women and a variety of other activities.

Much of the controversy about the Clinton Foundation focuses on Hillary Clinton’s role as Secretary of State and whether she was complicit in “selling access” in return for donations to the foundation. These charges were elevated to prominence by Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute, in his book Clinton Cash.

The Government Accountability Institute is the non-profit arm of Breitbart.com, a notoriously pugilistic right-wing website. Trump recently hired Steve Bannon, who runs Breitbart, to be the CEO of his campaign. Schweizer’s book failed to uncover any clear evidence of wrongdoing — and was rife with errors — but it did succeed in focusing mainstream media attention on the alleged issue.

Just this week, for example, the New York Times published a story with a provocative headline.

The actual story, however, was far less sensational. In 2009, Bill Clinton went on a successful diplomatic mission to North Korea to secure the release of two American journalists. Before the trip, emails show that a Bill Clinton aide asked if he and another staffer could obtain diplomatic passports from the State Department. They were turned down.

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While the reporting on the Clinton Foundation focuses on these kind of “conflicts,” there has been no evidence of actual misconduct. Charity watchdog groups rate the Clinton Foundation highly.

Charity Watch gave the Clinton Foundation an A grade, while GuideStar gave it a platinum rating.

Daniel Borochoff of Charity Watch noted that in 2014, 87.2% of the foundation’s funding went to its programs, “which is really high.” The foundation, he said, does “really important, valuable work that saves lives of lots of people.”

“It’s unfortunate that it’s become this punching bag, this political punching bag,” Borochoff said. “There’s a lot of things that are said that are false. If Hillary Clinton wasn’t running for president, the Clinton Foundation would be seen as one of the great humanitarian charities of our generation.”

Meanwhile, on September 1, news broke that the Trump Foundation “violated tax laws by giving a political contribution to a campaign group connected to Florida’s attorney general.” It was required to pay a $2500 fine to the IRS.

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The details of the case are even more unseemly. Florida’s Attorney General was considering opening an investigation into Trump University, which is accused of defrauding students. Bondi herself contacted Trump and asked for a political contribution. After a political committee associated with her campaign received the illegal $25,000 contribution, she decided not to pursue it.

The story has something that none of the Clinton Foundation stories have: Actual evidence of illegal conduct. In this case, not only is there concrete evidence that the Trump Foundation broke the law, but a formal finding of wrongdoing by the IRS.

And yet, coverage of the Trump Foundation, even in the few short days since the story of the IRS fine broke, has been scant. A search for coverage in the Nexis database, which contains almost all English language print and broadcast sources, found just 23 mentions of the “Trump Foundation” since September 1. That was vastly overshadowed by continual coverage of the Clinton Foundation, even though it was not the foundation linked to any illegal activity.

It’s worth asking why there is so much more interest in the Clinton Foundation than the Trump Foundation, even in the absence of actual evidence of misconduct.