A Wall Street Journal editorial conflated the public charity known as the Clinton Foundation with the private, personal Clinton Family Foundation in a misleading attack on Hillary Clinton's charitable giving -- and their misinformation made its way straight to Fox News primetime.
Clinton recently released her tax returns as part of her presidential campaign, and the returns reveal that she and her husband Bill donated nearly $15 million to charity from 2007-2014. The vast majority of that money went to their private philanthropic Clinton Family Foundation.
As Nonprofit Quarterly explained, the Clinton Family Foundation acts "a clearinghouse for the family's personal philanthropy." According to the Family Foundation's 2014 tax filing, Hillary and Bill Clinton are the only donors, and the Family Foundation distributes their money to various charities and nonprofits, including New York Public Radio, the American Nurses Foundation, the American Heart Association -- and the separate William J. Clinton Foundation.
The William J. Clinton Foundation -- which was recently renamed the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation -- is the highly-respected international charity that has garnered significant media attention since Clinton announced her run for president. It is the foundation that helps AIDS/HIV sufferers around the world get better medicine, and battles global health crises, economic inequality, childhood obesity, and climate change.
But in its August 4 editorial, the Journal conflated the two charities in their attack on Clinton's giving.
The Journal suggested that it was inappropriate for the Clinton family to give the vast majority of their charitable contributions to their own foundation, because, they claimed, the foundation "isn't exactly the Little Sisters of the Poor," and instead "While the foundation does contribute to charitable causes, it also doubles as a vehicle to promote the first family's political ambitions and public profile."
Though they correctly named the "Family Foundation," the Journal went on to claim that the foundation spends "an outsized portion of its money, for instance, picking up the travel and other expenses for the whole family":
The foundation has also functioned between campaigns and stints in public office as a jobs program and financier for various Clinton operatives. Sidney Blumenthal, who was banned by the White House from a job at the State Department, was paid by the foundation while he was dispensing bad advice on Libya to Mrs. Clinton. Foreign governments, unions, wealthy Democrats and corporations donated to the foundation knowing its political importance to the woman who could be the next U.S. President.
The Clintons play by their own political rules, and taking a nearly $15 million tax write-off to assist their electoral ambitions is merely the latest.
The problem is that the Family Foundation -- which received the nearly $15 million -- doesn't appear to have done most of those things. The global Clinton Foundation is the one which reportedly paid for some travel expenses and for the salaries of some Clinton advisers, but it received only a portion of the family's total charitable giving (a little over $1.8 million out of roughly $3.7 million in contributions in 2014, for example).
As Michael Wyland explained at NonProfit Quarterly (emphasis added), "it's understandable that the two foundations could be confused. However, a national publication expressing its official opinion about a presidential candidate's charitable activities should be expected to perform some due diligence."
Unfortunately, Fox's Bill O'Reilly also failed to perform that due diligence. Picking up on the Journal story, O'Reilly blasted Clinton's charitable giving during his August 5 show:
The Wall Street Journal reporting today in an editorial that although the Clintons donated about $15 million to charity between the years 2007 and 2014, all but 200,000 of that was given to the Clinton Foundation. Which pays travel and other expenses for the Clinton family and gives them a forum to promote public policy, in addition to helping various causes like combating world hunger. The Clintons wrote off $15 million in charitable deductions on their taxes.
The email situation's murky, and we're glad the FBI is finally involved. But the charity situation is not confusing. For seven years the Clintons funded their own foundation, which in part benefits them, and took a huge deduction in doing so.
I have a foundation. I know what I'm talking about.
Donating to their own internationally-renowned public charity seems like a logical thing the Clintons would do -- the fact is much of the Clintons' contributions also went to a variety of other charities, through their private Family Foundation.