Former President Clinton's charitable foundation has the potential to haunt both his wife and the Obama administration, and not just because it has a history of accepting donations from tyrants and corrupt businessmen. Foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia, Australia, the Dominican Republic and Kuwait, have given millions to the Clinton Foundation, which might complicate Hillary Clinton's dealings with those countries -- and could lead to a perception, justified or not, that one way to influence U.S. policy is to slip a few bucks to the secretary of State's husband's charity. Given the importance of perception in international relations, that's no small concern.
Bill Clinton has a troubling history of doing favors for his political donors, and although his charity's work is beyond reproach -- it has contributed millions to fighting AIDS and climate change around the world -- the foundation's connection to enterprises that personally enrich both Clintons is murky. Many of its donors also have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees to the former president. Then there are highly questionable donations, such as the $500,000 he was paid by a Japanese American business for a speech he never gave, and that he later donated to the foundation, as reported in Tuesday’s Times by Andrew Zajac.
The Obama administration struck a deal with the foundation aimed at improving transparency and avoiding conflicts, but it doesn't go far enough. Though the names of future donors will be released, it will be on an annual basis, and foreign governments will be subject to review by federal ethics officers only if they're new donors.
The best way out of this mess would be for Bill Clinton to divorce himself from all of his foundation's fundraising activities for as long as Hillary Clinton is secretary of State; he can consider it partial atonement to his long-suffering wife. If he won't, the foundation should at least reveal its donors in real time, as the contributions are received, and should follow a suggestion made Tuesday by Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and forswear new foreign contributions. That won't end potential conflicts from U.S.-based donors with international interests, but it's a start.