Clinton Foundation Donor Info: Playing Hard To Get?

| Thu Dec. 18, 2008 2:47 PM EST

When Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton decided to work together--with her becoming secretary of state--part of the deal was that the William J. Clinton Foundation, which funds the former president's globetrotting do-gooding and his presidential library, would release all of its donors going back to 1997. For years, Bill Clinton had declined to reveal who was backing his foundation. But the point, as a foundation press release noted, was "to ensure that not even the appearance of a conflict of interest existed between the Clinton Foundation's operations and Senator Clinton's anticpated service as Secretary of State."

On Thursday, the foundation posted the names of those donors on its website--all 2922 pages of them. The list includes a host of foreign governments (Norway, Kuwait, Qatar, Taiwan), Stephen Speilberg's foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Blackwater, General Motors, Freddie Mac, and Citigroup's foundation.

Beyond the specific contributions, what's notable is that this list is damn hard to navigate. To review the contributors, a visitor--say, a journalist--has to click through nearly 3000 pages. As of today, it was not searchable. And the names are provided without addresses or any identifying information. (Political campaigns have to provide the Federal Elections Commission addresses and employment information for their donors.) So who's this Nasser Al-Rashid, who gave between $1 million and $5 million. Cut to Google: he's a Saudi Arabian businessman, supposedly an influential adviser to the Saudi royal family, and owner of one of the largest yachts in the world. Saudis have been especially generous to the Clinton Foundation.

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The foundation also was apparently not prepared for the amount of traffic this disclosure would draw. No doubt, plenty of reporters--as well as opposition researchers, development officials at other foundations, and perhaps even overseas intelligence services--were interested in examining the list to see what they could find. In the hours after the list was posted, the site kept crashing.

But a search of the first few pages yielded some interesting high-rollers. Denise Rich, the ex-wife of fugitive businessman Marc Rich, donated between $250,000 and $500,000. Her former husband, who was indicted in the 1980s on charges of tax evasion and illegal dealmaking with Iran, was infamously pardoned by Clinton in the final hours of his presidency. The pardon was slammed by critics who alleged it had been bought by Denise Rich's generous donations to the Democratic Party and Clinton's presidential library.

Ahead of Rich on the list is Lakshmi Mittal, an Indian-born industrialist who's worth an estimate $45 billion. He gave the foundation between $1 million and $5 million. Mittal has been accused of maintaining "slave labour" conditions in his mines, where nearly a hundred of his workers have died since 2004. In 2001, he was swept up in a British scandal
over whether the £125,000 he contributed to Tony Blair's Labour Party influenced the British PM to further Mittal's business interests.

Getting a bead on the less famous of Clinton's 20,000 contributors will take a while. And the foundation has not made it easy. Putting the information out in a hard-to-search format without anything but the names and not having enough bandwith to meet the demand for access--could all this be by design? Whether or not it is, journalists (and others) ought to be able to work through the list before Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearings.

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