A Tale of Two Foundations

On this International day of Democracy, it seems fitting that we should take a look at our democracy. Here in the US, a robust campaign season is underway, with one highly qualified woman running for the Presidency after years of service in political life, and a highly unqualified man running against her on a conservative platform he adopted only after being nominated, on the heels of years as a business man with questionable ethics.

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Yet, we insist on treating them as equals. They are each major party nominees who beat formidable foes to clinch the nomination. So we deem them as equals. Alas, they are not.

Focusing just on the way each manages their family foundations, we can scrutinize their personalities and work ethic, even their inner compass as people, and determine if they deserve parity in treatment as respectable political candidates for the highest office in the land.

A Tale of two Foundations

In 2001 Bill Clinton left office a broken President. He had been married by the Monica Lewisnsky scandal, and had left an indelible image in the mind of most Americans by wagging his index finger behind the white house podium during one fateful press conference where he swore he had not had "sex with that woman", the name of whom seemed to have monetarily escaped him. He had gone on after that low point to rehabilitate his image, and left the white house with a 66% approval ratings. Still, he was inarguably scarred and his record tarnished by the scandal. Republicans had dug in their heels and ensured that the Clinton legacy would forever be marked by a stained blue dress, with Clinton DNA.

As all Presidents do when they leave office, Bill Clinton established a Presidential library in his hometown. Little Rock, Arkansas became the place where the Clinton presidency would be embodied, while Bill Clinton himself would go on to set up his office headquarters in New York City, where his wife, Hilary would soon launch a bid for the Senate. The Clintons rebuilt their tarnished image of an ethically compromised power couple. Although countless women forgive husbands for transgressions of all sorts over the course of an average marriage, Hillary Clinton's volition to forgive Bill and rehabilitate her marriage even in the face of national humiliation seemed to ring disingenuous to many. People accused her of being a "political wife", too willing to forgive her promiscuous husband for her own chance at gain and fame. I thought otherwise.

Hillary went on to win the junior senate seat from NY, and Bill rebuilt a reputation for caring about people - common people, that is. He established an office in Harlem, and walked the streets openly, proving that the nether reaches of upper Manhattan were indeed safe, even if colored, and people could visit and walk freely on the same streets as a popular modern-day President. He took on his post-presidential role in earnest and began advocating for the common good. He established the William J. Clinton Foundation, and later the Clinton Family Foundation, along with his wife, and began the work of collecting and giving away money, to make a better world for people he always reminded us, he was not among.

At the same time, in the same city, another man was rising like a star (don't smirk Donald, there's more). He was coming off the heels of a near bankruptcy and to many, he already seemed like a gold gilded farce. To others, he was a brash risk taker with a mastery of brand building. Donald Trump had the overconfidence of an ill meaning swindler and his motives seemed squarely rooted in gain - his own, that is. He has been quoted saying he saved his business in the early nineties by taking advantage of weak people ("you play the weak spots"), and has boasted about his penchant for borrowing too much, and surviving even though he was "overleveraged". Eventually, he did not make his money in real estate, but in learning how to lease his brand name while building an image of opulence and celebrity to sell it high. The name TRUMP is often emblazoned on signature buildings we've come to recognize as Trump real estate. In fact, the real property is not owned by Trump, he's just responsible for the pomp.

Against this backdrop sit two family foundations. One is an image of philanthropy, with the objective of self-aggrandizement, perhaps even enrichment. One is the essence of charity with the purpose of global aid and advancement. Neither looks pretty under the glare of presidential election politics, and the scrutiny leading into October.

The Clintons established their family foundation in 1997, and since then have donated more than twenty Million dollars of their own money to the charitable foundation (according to annual IRS forms 990). By contrast, since forming his family foundation in 1988, Donald Trump has donated less than a few million dollars of his own money, to his arguably charitable foundation. The Clintons have accepted far less in outside contributions to their charitable giving than they have put in, whereas trump has accepted more than 90% of the money flowing into his charitable foundation, from others. The Trump foundation has been investigated more than once for IRS rules violations, and has had to pay a fine for skirting regulations to make political contributions. The Clinton Foundation has never been under investigation for misconduct.

The Trump foundation runs no programs of its own, merely donated to other charities, that Mr. Trump favors. Some included, The citizens United Foundation, The Clinton Foundation, The New York Military Academy, CURE for Epilepsy and Florida Attorney general Pamela Bondi's campaign (for which they ultimately had to pay a fine).

By Contrast the Clinton Foundation has donated millions of dollars to colleges and Universities in the Unites States to support scholarships and higher education grants to underprivileged students. Abroad, the Clinton Foundation has donated in force to establishing anti poverty initiatives, communication networks for rural areas where there formerly was none, medical relief programs for undeserved populations in continents far from our own. When disaster struck, at home or abroad, the Clinton Foundation raised and delivered aid to people near and far, including the tsunami in Indonesia, the earthquake in Haiti, crop droughts in Africa and floods here at home. As a stark contrast to the glitz that the "Trump" brand uses to turn philanthropy into gain, the Clintons use their celebrity status to turn the "Clinton" brand appeal, into benevolence.

Today, quite contrary to the mockery Trump and his campaign would like to make us believe, the Clinton Foundation is an example of modern post-presidential philanthropy of the effective kind. The well thought out charitable donations made by the Clinton foundation aim to solve some of the world's most obstinate problems. Through Vital Voices, they have tackled the issues that women face in dark corners of the world where they are barely ever seen or heard (see my earlier article here). They tackle AIDS, global climate change, human sustainability, clean energy, reproductive rights, global health care, and even life threatening disease research and prevention. The foundation aims to have a lasting impact on the world we live in, with global reach and an ambitious objective to make a difference in the lives of people the Clintons will never meet. By contrast, Donald J. Trump has never donated to a charity whose owner or Director he did not know.

Now you decide, who would you rather have at the helm of our national future?