Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Foundation for Public Service.

It has been said that “Jimmy Carter provided Americans with an ideal model of post-presidential life.” Regardless of political affiliation, President Carter’s efforts with Habitat for Humanity and the Carter Center for Democracy since he left the presidency have been hailed as making a positive impact both at home and abroad. Different interpretations may feed different narratives but, having personally read the Carter Center reports on Venezuela elections for example, detailing abuses of the power of incumbency in an unlimited reelection system, the abuse of the media by government propaganda, and the manipulation of electoral registrations in that country ring true. This is a contribution of a statesman to the world.

After Carter, however, three out of four presidents have not quite lived up to that standard of statesmanship in public commitment. The foundations with the names of Presidents Reagan, Bush 41 and 43 have dedicated their efforts to ensure that the legacy and history of their presidencies is polished. Before President Carter, President Nixon’s and Ford’s foundations did the same as their later Republican presidential peers, and Ford is credited with being the first former president to leverage his status to enrich himself through the speech making and book circuit.
The Clinton Foundation was started in 1997, following the customary method to fund the eventual Clinton presidential library. After the Clinton presidency, multiple offshoots of this foundation redefined the idea of service in a post presidential life. The Foundation has grown immensely with some extraordinary accomplishments and, perhaps, some  eyebrow raising alliances—normal for an organization with the scope, scale, nature and structure that it has.
The Foundation has become a complicated multi-national organization with staff and programs around the world. A small portion of the Foundation’s expenses, about 6%, are used for direct grants (charitable contributions), but the bulk of its expenses are in programs with “intended social impact e.g., improving education, creating livelihoods, improving health, etc.” implemented and operated by the Foundation. It is facile to dismiss the Clinton Foundation as a “money making scheme” but its level of transparency reveals true social work at a level unprecedented by any former president’s initiatives.
Besides funding the library, the Clinton Foundation includes now under its umbrella the following:
·         The Clinton Economic Opportunity Initiative, which primarily focuses on small business growth and equal opportunity which is the overarching theme of the Clinton Foundation. Its domestic efforts have included the Harlem Small Business Initiative, the Entrepreneur Mentoring Program and the Financial Mainstream Program.
·         The Clinton Global Initiative, which encompasses the world wide reach of the Foundation's work in 180 countries and that has transformed positively the lives of 430 million people. CGI Annual Meetings have brought together 190 sitting and former heads of state, more than 20 Nobel Prize laureates, and hundreds of leading CEOs, heads of foundations and NGOs, major philanthropists, and members of the media. Its mission is “Turn Ideas into Action.”
·         The Clinton Health Access Initiative, founded in 2002 as part of the CGI and spun off in 2010, CHAI is a global health organization committed to strengthening integrated health systems in the developing world and expanding access to care and treatment for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
·         The Clinton Development Initiative, formed in 2006, with a mission to target the root causes of poverty in Africa. It currently has projects to improve food security, clean water and sanitation, and quality health care by operating projects to empower smallholder farmers and increase their economic potential in Rwanda, Malawi and Tanzania.
·         The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a partnership between the Foundation and the American Heart Association with a mission to reduce childhood obesity in America. Among its initiatives included is the “Kids’ Movement.” The Kids' Movement has inspired more than 2.5 million kids in America to make a pledge to go healthy.
·         The Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative, which has taken the Clinton Foundation’s mission primarily to Latin America, with projects in El Salvador, Colombia and Peru.
·         The Clinton Climate Initiative, founded in 2006 to combat climate change. Among other activities it has the 1Sky campaign, supporting an 80% reduction in climate pollution by 2050. It has funded, among others, reforestation projects in Haiti.
·         The Clinton Health Matters Initiative, launched in 2012, works to improve the health and well-being of people across the United States.
The Foundation supports continued relief efforts to the victims of the tsunami in Malaysia, hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Haiti earthquake, efforts made in collaboration with former President George HW Bush. With president George W. Bush, and starting during his presidency, it has led continuing anti AIDS and Malaria efforts in Africa.
The enormously ambitious agenda of the Foundation has relied for its execution on fundraising from many like-minded individuals and charity foundations, as well as corporations and governments, some with possible hidden agendas not necessarily compatible with the Foundation’s mission. It is conceivable that some tried to take advantage of connections enabled by their donations to seek questionable political favors from persons in positions of influence. What is unquestionable is the Foundation’s role in improving the quality of life and broadening opportunity to millions of people in the US and around the world.
Since its beginning the Foundation is estimated to have raised $2B and it has an estimated 200 to 300M in yearly contribution funds. Several independent charity evaluation organizations have looked into the Clinton Foundation and found it to adhere to sound charity practices: In its latest financials, for example, it shows nearly ninety percent of expenses used towards direct mission operation's work, out of a total of $242MM (2014); for each $100 raised, $2 are spent to raise them. The American Red Cross, as an example, is also at the 90% funds for charity out of $2.87B in expenses, but spends $30 for every $100 raised. Amnesty International USA uses 80% of its expenses for its operational work, out of $32MM in expenses and spends $14 for each $100 raised. All these organizations have garnered an A Rating from Charity Watch.
The Foundation is running a surplus between donations and expenses. This difference is being accumulated to create a permanent endowment to make it less reliable on continuous fund raising and decrease its exposure to influence peddling, given the high profile nature of its directors and founders.
The political attacks on the Foundation based on its name within the heat of a presidential campaign are understandable. But using shorthand memes to undermine a complex array of worldwide social programs that generate US good will and influence, and has the support of former presidents from both parties, could damage the image of our nation and affect charitable foundation work for years to come.
The bar for post-presidential service has been raised from those first steps that President Carter took. We hopefully will see in the next few years a greater role of former presidents in using stately influence not only to maintain a library but to make a positive mark in the world. After all, what else is a former president to do?
Where Does Clinton Foundation Money Go? -- FactCheck.Org
Charity Watch Rating Alert: The Clinton Foundation
Life after the Presidency – Jimmy Carter
Life after the Presidency – George HW Bush
Life after the Presidency – George W Bush

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