So Friday’s New York Post headline was: Clinton charity gave $2M to company owned by Bill’s ‘friend’.
In fact, the Clinton charity gave ZERO to the company (part-)owned by Bill’s ‘friend.’
Which I know because, as the Post notes, I, too, own part of the company.
How could the Post have gotten it so wrong?
(There is a difference between $2 million and ZERO, no? If I told the world you’d misappropriated $2 million when in fact you’d misappropriated nothing, wouldn’t you feel I got it wrong?)
[Update: now, when you follow the link, the headline has been changed from “gave $2M” to “arranged $2M pledge.” The full-page printed front cover, meanwhile, reads: BUBBA STEERED CHARITY $$ TO ‘FRIEND’ BLOND BOMBSHELL.]
The Post — owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp — based its story on this lengthy front-page piece in the Wall Street Journal — also owned by Murdoch’s News Corp: CHARITY AIDS CLINTON FRIENDS.
It didn’t come right out and say anyone did anything wrong (or at least I don’t think it did; it was actually kind of hard to tell). But there was sure a lot of ominous innuendo.
Kevin Drum’s take on the piece (in part):
. . . The story meanders through nearly 2,000 more words, but it can be summarized pretty easily:
- Energy Pioneer Solutions is a startup company that insulates people’s homes and allows them to pay via their utility bills. It’s owned by several Democratic Party donor types and other assorted worthies.
- Six years ago, a Canadian philanthropist named Kim Samuel decided to make a $2 million commitment to the company. (Though in the end, she decided to commit only $500,000.)
- For some reason the Journal doesn’t explain, Samuel routed this commitment through the Clinton foundation instead of just giving it directly to EPS.
And…that’s about it. . . .The Journal article does its best to make this sound shady in some way, but I’m not really seeing it. Can anyone help me out?
Actually, even this summary is a little misleading. Samuel’s money was not “routed through the Clinton foundation,” and neither are any of the other hundreds of “commitments” people and corporations make at the Clinton Global Initiative each year, so far as I know. Her money was invested directly in the company — not donated to it — as was mine.
And lots of the “commitments” at CGI are meant to be profit-making. For example, here’s a report of Richard Branson’s $3 billion commitment to combat climate change. Obviously, this money was not “routed through” the Clinton Foundation. And like Ms. Samuel’s commitment, it was not a gift, it was a planned investment.
That’s one of the key things the Clinton Global Initiative does: It encourages — some might say inspires — business leaders of all political stripes to do more good in the world. Why is that bad?
Walmart is surely a profit-driven enterprise. I was in the CGI audience the year its CEO committed to reduce packaging across its global supply chain by 5% — as reported here — an initiative equivalent to reducing shipping costs and diesel fuel consumption and carbon emissions by some crazy huge number . . . with the hope (I assume) that once the 5% was achieved, they’d shoot for more. Read the article. It’s the nuts and bolts of making the world better, and the kind of thing the Clinton Global Initiative has been working to encourage and catalyze for a dozen years now. And, yes, it could increase Walmart profits.
Meanwhile, here‘s a story about another Walmart Clinton Global Initiative commitment to empower girls and women around the world. That one has no direct profit-motive.
Whatever you may think of Walmart — my own view is that a lot of fine people work there, constantly balancing “low prices” for their costumers and high profits for the shareholders, on the one hand, against the good of workers, society, and the environment — isn’t it a good thing that CGI encourages them to shift that balance a bit toward workers, society, and the environment?
I was also in the audience when a foreign bank presented its commitment to restore the sight of some huge number of Africans suffering from cataracts. When I heard that the cost was just $30 per operation, I added $10,000 of my own to their much larger commitment (well, they’re a big bank!), unable to resist the prospect of changing 300-plus families’ lives with a single donation. (It’s not just the blind person who becomes sighted; it’s his entire family that no longer has to care for him.)
CGI gives worthy projects, of whatever type — for-profit and non-profit — a stage from which to make a brief presentation that may attract more investors and contributors.
To me, things like the Carter Center (which has, among so much else, eradicated an agonizing disease, and which I also proudly support) and the Clinton Foundation, are wonderful forces for good.
But in a political season, if the New York Post can feed people’s cynicism and sell more newspapers — well, no one ever said Rupert Murdoch built his media empire out of a lust for journalistic excellence.
So back to the Journal’s story. The reporter contacted me, asking how I became involved, and so on, and I emailed him, in part:
I met Scott Kleeb when Howard Dean invited him to a DNC fundraiser as an example of the kind of terrific young candidate his Fifty-State Strategy was encouraging.
I wound up supporting his Congressional race and then his Senate race – tough things for a Democrat to win in Nebraska, but he acquitted himself well – and when [after he lost] I heard his Energy Pioneer story I was immediately drawn to invest – energy efficiency, and particularly, home energy efficiency, is the low-hanging fruit in combating climate change – and with my modest initial investment, I wound up owning a small percentage of the company. It grew, because ultimately, between loans and equity investments, I’ve wound up putting a little more than $1 million into this effort, part of which was done as part of a commitment Kim Samuel and I made at the Clinton Global Initiative, which I’ve been proud to support since the first one a dozen years ago.
Energy-efficiency and the climate crisis are among the myriad causes to which President Clinton is committed and on which he is astonishingly well informed. I will never forget being at a small fundraiser near the end of his presidency when he recommended everyone read Amory Lovins’ then-new Natural Capitalism. Amory and I were classmates until he dropped out – Harvard was not challenging enough for him – so I knew all about his amazing work, but how did the President know? Well, of course, President Clinton knows, and cares, about almost EVERYTHING that’s important.
I was excited to call Amory and tell him about this, but apparently he had long been an adviser to the President on these matters, so he was pleased but not surprised . . . and I wasn’t surprised to see Amory, for years, at CGI . . . or that President Clinton was psyched about the potential for EPS and making America’s housing stock more efficient, cutting CO2 emissions, and lowering consumers’ energy bills.
In other words, the former president has always been passionate about this stuff and eager to move it forward. The slant the Journal and the Post preferred was that it just sounds sketchy to them that the former president would want to help a worthy start-up part-owned by friends of his (none of it, again, with Foundation money — zero).
Here’s how Inside Philanthropy covered the Journal‘s story:
. . . Some of the allegations about the foundation have been truly unsettling. Let’s hope smart reporters keep digging around.
Yet other allegations about the Clinton Foundation have been almost comically clueless in their failure to understand modern philanthropy or how this unique outfit operates.
If you look at CGI’s record, you’ll know that it makes total sense that Bill Clinton would seek to arrange financing for Energy Pioneer Solutions. The fact that he was connected to some of those involved is immaterial. Most of us find out about cool ideas and projects through our personal or professional networks.
To me, the only mystery in this story is why James Grimaldi would write it—trying to concoct a scandal out of a smart impact investment made six years ago. After all, this is the same James Grimaldi who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for his investigation of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
I have two theories as to why Grimaldi got this so wrong.
First, like most reporters, he just doesn’t understand either the Clinton Foundation or impact investing. . . .
Or maybe not, which leads me to my second theory—namely, that this story is really about sniffing out a Clinton sex scandal. The New York Post wasted no time today linking one of the original owners of Pioneer Energy Solutions to Bill Clinton in a romantic way, plastering the allegation on its cover and, in the process, badly mangling the WSJ story. The Post depicts the Clinton Foundation itself as making a payout to the company, as opposed to simply arranging financing. Clearly, one reporter on Rupert Murdoch’s payroll didn’t closely read what another had written. . . .
And it goes on from there.
Finally, if you’ve made it this far, some facts from the Foundation itself. The whole thing is interesting, if you care about healing the world, but start with this snippet:
Since 2005, members of the CGI community have made more than 3,400 commitments that are improving the lives of more than 430 million people in 180 countries around the world.
The Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and New York Post chose to focus their front-page stories on a single one of those 3,400.
And to lead people to believe that the former president used $2 million of his foundation’s money to aid a for-profit company owned by his friends . . . when in fact ZERO dollars were so used.
[This is not Friday’s column — Donald Ducks. But it may be Monday’s column, if I get lazy. I just figured I should put it out sooner rather than later, as the WSJ hit piece echoes around the world.]
Quote of the Day
Talking to politicians about the economy is like talking with eight-year-olds about sex. They have heard all the words, but they haven't a clue.~Michael Aronstein
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