NPR Exposes Holes in Chelsea and Bill Clinton's 'Most Transparent Foundation' Boasts

May 1st, 2015 2:43 PM

On Monday night, NPR’s newscast All Things Considered did a fact-check on the Clinton family’s claims about their own foundation’s transparency. Money-and-politics correspondent Peter Overby found both Chelsea Clinton and Bill Clinton weren’t entirely factual, exaggerating how transparent their foundation was. But NPR quoted watchdogs that this could just be an “innocent mistake.”

Overby strangely concluded this was like other Clinton controversies, “not terribly clear, shaped by exaggerations on both sides.” Both sides? Overby failed to list any anti-Clinton exaggerations.

Here’s how the story unfolded:

ROBERT SIEGEL: Hillary Clinton has been dogged over the past week by scrutiny of her family's foundation. The Clintons are pushing back, saying their organization is one of the most transparent in the world. NPR's Peter Overby has dug into that claim.

PETER OVERBY: The Clinton Foundation's acting CEO, Maura Pally, said this weekend that the foundation has made mistakes, but it's committed to operating responsibly and with better transparency. Pally's blog post came days after Chelsea Clinton, the foundation's vice chair, defended the foundation at a conference in New York City.

CHELSEA CLINTON: Even though Transparency International and others have said we're among the most transparent foundations, we'll disclose donors at a quarterly basis and not just an annual basis.

PETER OVERBY: Here's Claudia Dumas, president of Transparency International-USA.

CLAUDIA DUMAS: We do not do an examination or any ranking of foundations.

PETER OVERBY: Transparency International, or TI for short, promotes government transparency as a way to fight corruption. Back in 2012, TI's U.S. chapter did give Hillary Clinton an award. She was then secretary of state.

HILLARY CLINTON (archived recording): Thank you. Well, I am - I am very honored to be here and delighted to be supporting the work of Transparency International-USA.

PETER OVERBY: At TI-USA, Claudia Dumas said the award was...

CLAUDIA DUMAS: Recognizing her contributions as secretary of state in raising the importance of transparency and anticorruption as elements of U.S. policy.

PETER OVERBY: And Clinton never mentioned the foundation in her speech. Dumas said linking the award to the Clinton Foundation may have been an innocent mistake.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton, in the April issue of Town & Country magazine, said the Clinton Foundation, quote, "is by a good long stretch the most transparent of all the presidential foundations and more transparent than a lot of other major foundations in the country," unquote.

That oversimplifies things. The Clinton Foundation discloses all its donors. Former President Jimmy Carter's charitable Carter Center discloses all but its smallest donors. And those other major foundations that Clinton referred to - most of the big foundations - Ford, Gates, Rockefeller, for instance - are privately funded and don't have any outside donors to disclose.

Overby brought in a professor of philanthropy at story’s end (Leslie Lenkowsky) to suggest it wasn’t really unusual for a charity’s record-keeping to have some gaps. Overby then concluded:

So at least as things stand now, the Clinton Foundation transparency controversy resembles some of the other episodes of Clinton politics. It's a picture that's not terribly clear, shaped by exaggerations on both sides. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.