Revealed: The State Department’s Hidden Hillary Donors
Hillary Clinton may have suspended her political career temporarily when she became secretary of state. But the Clinton fundraising machine was in full swing and raising millions of dollars for the State Department under her watch, an analysis by The Daily Beast has found.
More than a dozen donors to Clinton’s non-profit foundation and her various political campaigns poured money into an endowment she launched into 2010 to pay for the upkeep of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. The 42 sumptuous salons at State Department headquarters in Washington, decorated with 18th and 19th century American furnishings, are used to welcome foreign dignitaries, conduct diplomatic meetings and swearing-in ceremonies, and host official dinners.
By the following year, the campaign had raised more than $20 million to permanently fund restoration and maintenance for the rooms and their collections of rare American artwork, thanks largely to reliable Clinton donors.
Nearly half of the 37 people and organizations who donated to the State Department campaign, known as Patrons of Diplomacy, also gave money to the Clinton Foundation, according to State Department and foundation records. Of the 11 people who served as co-chairs for the campaign, agreeing to contribute their own money or to help raise funds from others, six also gave to the Clinton Foundation, a global charity started by former President Bill Clinton.
Until this week the State Department seemed inclined to keep the names of these patrons private. When The Daily Beast initially asked to see the donor list, a department spokesperson said that it was already the subject of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Republican National Committee, and therefore couldn’t yet be released. (The RNC has filed six lawsuits against the State Department related to Clinton’s tenure, focused on potential conflicts of interest with her and her aides’ work for the foundation, as well as her use of a private email server for official business.)
But if the State Department wanted to keep the donors from public scrutiny, it’s not clear why their names are inscribed on a wall, located on a terrace off one of the reception rooms, with a sweeping view of the National Mall.
Only when The Daily Beast pointed out that an article in a 2012 issue of an internal State Department magazine mentions the donor wall was a reporter allowed to see it.
Having a name etched in stone was one of several donor perks, according to a glossy 22-page brochure that describes the important restoration and maintenance work that private contributions have funded over the years (PDF). Taxpayer funds may not be used for the reception rooms, which are open to the public and house a museum-quality collection of furniture, paintings, and documents.
“By becoming a Patron of Diplomacy, you are supporting the ongoing business of American diplomacy and investing in our nation’s future. Gifts to the campaign are tax deductible,” the brochure states.
Donors also receive “invitations to campaign events and ongoing activities,” as well as recognition on a website that has apparently been awaiting an update for the better part of four years. The Daily Beast was able to find an archived section of the website that contains the names of hundreds of donors who have given over the years, most of them before Clinton took office.
The Daily Beast found no evidence that donors to Patrons of Diplomacy had been offered favors or special access to the State Department, beyond what’s spelled out in the brochure. And there’s nothing nefarious about the raising of private funds to pay for public works. Indeed, private donors have been pitching in to support the rooms since 1961.
“The State Department and the Clinton Foundation are separate entities, and we can only speak to our programs and policies,” department spokesperson Mark Toner told The Daily Beast. “All donations to the Patrons of Diplomacy initiative were reviewed by the Department in accordance with applicable rules and regulations.”
But the overlap between the campaign and donors to the Clinton Foundation, as well as Clinton’s political campaigns, may be problematic for the Democratic presidential frontrunner. Along with her husband, Clinton has faced repeated criticism over the years that the foundation serves as a conduit for influencing official decision-making.
In addition to suing for the names of the donors, the RNC has also demanded information that its staff thinks could indicate some quid-pro-quo between donors and those seeking to get on Clinton’s good side (PDF). That information includes solicitations to the patrons campaign, invitations to the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, and visitor logs for Clinton’s “formal quarters” and personal office at State Department headquarters.
“The overlap between donors to the Clinton Foundation and this project raise more questions about influence buying at the Clinton State Department,” Raj Shah, the deputy communications director for the RNC, told The Daily Beast. “It’s becoming clearer by the day that reason Hillary Clinton set up her email server was to conceal unseemly conflicts of interest that were prevalent during her tenure. Now we see that evidence of these conflicts are literally carved in stone.”
Regardless of the RNC’s allegations, it’s clear that even when Clinton is not on the campaign trail, her family’s money-raising machine follows her. Clinton’s fundraising prowess dwarfed previous efforts at the State Department. Tax returns for a non-profit organization that has managed funds for the reception rooms since the 1980s show that, on average, it had about $4.8 million in assets on hand in the four years before Clinton took office. The fund was also losing money. Clinton and her friends and donors raised four times the fund’s assets, for a grand total of $20.3 million.
Clinton also personally pitched donors in a promotional video about the reception rooms and the patrons campaign.
“These rooms are completely paid for and furnished by private donations,” she noted. “The Patrons of Diplomacy is our effort to reach out and include people today who wish to make a contribution to keep these rooms going, to make sure that they remain as beautiful, historically significant, as they are right now.”
“The Diplomatic Reception Rooms enable the Secretary of State and other senior U.S. Government officials to receive distinguished foreign visitors with a touch of our nation’s history,” State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told The Daily Beast in a written statement. “In October 2011, the campaign was successfully completed… thereby ensuring that the Diplomatic Rooms and their Collection will continue to provide an extraordinary venue for American diplomacy for generations to come.”
Neither the Clinton Foundation nor the Clinton campaign responded to requests for comment.
State Department spokesman John Kirby also said that the department is currently processing the RNC’s request for the donor names and related information. But there has been a surge in requests under the Freedom of Information Act in recent years, with approximately 22,000 last year alone, he said. The department processes those requests “in an entirely nonpartisan manner,” Kirby added.
The patrons are collectively responsible for at least $33 million in contributions to the Clinton Foundation, according to publicly available records. Many gave donations in the five- and six-figures, with a handful of seven- and eight-figure donors responsible for the lion’s share of the total. Those donors include some of the biggest Clinton fundraisers around, who’ve been supporting her and her husband’s political careers for years.
The Indiana philanthropist Bren Simon was deemed a “Grand Patron” of the patrons campaign, having contributed $1 million or more. She was also named a co-chair of the overall fundraising effort. Simon has also given between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation, records show. Her philanthropic foundation, which shares the name of her late husband, the shopping mall magnate Melvin Simon, also gave the foundation between $250,000 and $500,000. And Bren Simon has personally donated the maximum amount under law to Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, as well as to her 2008 run and her earlier campaign for the U.S. Senate.
Several of the patrons donors are among the most devout of the Clinton network over the past few decades. At least three, Fred Eychaner, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and Dan Abraham, were among 63 people who gave $10,000—the maximum—to Bill Clinton’s legal defense fund, which was set up to pay his legal bills amid the various scandals that dogged his presidency, as well as his impeachment.
(McAuliffe’s own fundraising is now the subject of scrutiny. The FBI is investigating the onetime Clinton Foundation board member for potentially taking illegal campaign contributions, it was reported this week. Investigators are reportedly scrutinizing donations to McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign by Chinese billionaire Wang Wenliang, who also gave $2 million to the Clinton Foundation through his company, Rilin Enterprises. McAuliffe formerly served on the foundation’s board.)
At least 18 patrons also gave to Clinton’s various political campaigns ranging from her Senate campaign in 2000 to her current bid for president.
Eychaner, a reclusive media entrepreneur and so-called Hillblazer, has raised at least $100,000 in contributions to Clinton’s presidential campaign. She personally thanked him for serving as a co-chair for Patrons of Diplomacy in her remarks at a 2011 reception to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms.
Eychaner is a rarity among Clinton donors, being one of only seven people who has given $25 million or more to the Clinton Foundation. A 2015 analysis by Politico found confusion over whether Eychaner had personally given the money or donated through his own foundation, Alphawood. But Eychaner’s prominent donor status isn’t in doubt. In the 2016 election cycle, he has personally given just over $4 million to Democratic outside spending groups, including political action committees, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Eychaner gave $2 million to Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC backing Clinton for president.
Henry Laufer and his wife, Marsha, whose names are also on the patrons wall, held a fundraiser for Clinton’s presidential run this past April in their South Florida home. And in February, Laufer, a vice president at Renaissance Technologies, donated $500,000 to pro-Clinton Super PAC Correct the Record.
And Ewa and Dan Abraham, a longtime donor for both Bill and Hillary Clinton, underwrote an endowment to care for the terrace at the State Department where the Patrons of Diplomacy memorial wall hangs.
The patrons campaign also drew on the ranks of Washington’s moneyed society, including those who have a long history of giving to cultural and artistic causes.
One of the co-chairs, philanthropist Adrienne Arsht, is a fixture among Washington’s social scene and a major benefactor of the performing arts. She gave $500,000 to the patrons campaign, qualifying her for “Major Philanthropist” statuts. She also hired a Miami marketing firm with which she does business, Republica, to create that glossy brochure brochure (PDF), which was used to pitch other donors.
Arsht, who made her money in Florida banking, also has given the maximum amount allowed to Clinton’s presidential campaign. But she has mostly spent her millions on the city of Miami’s Center for the Performing Arts, the largest in Florida, which bears her name, as well as on major donations to New York’s Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera. Last Saturday, Arsht attended the annual gala for the Washington National Opera, striding confidently in a floor-length blue beaded gown through the hall of the Organization of American States, as members of the city’s arts and philanthropy establishment greeted one of their own.
Arsht is also a preeminent figure in the rarified world of money and society that Clinton herself knows well as a longtime, on-again-off-again resident of the District of Columbia. And the two have socialized together. In July 2012, Clinton attended a small dinner that Arsht hosted at her Washington home for Adm. James Stavridis, the then-commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, and Stavridis’s wife, according to a copy of Clinton’s schedule that was released along with some of the emails she kept on a private server in her New York home.
Another bastion of the Washington philanthropic establishment, David Rubenstein, was also a co-chair of the patrons campaign and gave at least $1 million. (He has given modestly to the Clinton Foundation, between $5,000 and $10,000, records show.) Rubenstein’s passion—some might say mission—is the preservation of American history and priceless treasures. He personally ponied up half the cost to repair the Washington Monument after it was damaged and closed following a 2012 earthquake, about $7.5 million. And Rubenstein, one of Washington’s few billionaires, lent the State Department a rare 1823 copy of the Declaration of Independence to display in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. (He has also given an original copy of the Magna Carta that he bought for $21 million to the National Archives, which has a Rubenstein gallery.)
The Daily Beast reached out to several of the top donors to the patrons campaign, including the co-chairs. Rubenstein, the only person to respond, told The Daily Beast that he had been approached to give to the Patrons of Diplomacy campaign, but he didn’t recall by whom.
“There is a long standing program to raise funds to outfit the public rooms at State,” Rubenstein said, noting that the effort first got underway in the early 1960s, when what are now the grand reception rooms were drab, modernist affairs with low ceilings and harsh lighting.
The wife of Secretary of State Christian Herter, who served in the Eisenhower administration from 1959 to 1961, reportedly wept when she first saw the rooms, believing the United States would be humiliated to host heads of state and foreign dignitaries in such a garish venue.
“It looked like a gangster’s molls headquarters on the Twentieth Century-Fox lot,” State Department curator Clement Conger, who is widely credited as the guiding force behind the original plan to remodel the rooms and the subsequent upkeep, told the Christian Science Monitor in 1985. “It was done in completely modern furniture, covered in purple, red, and turquoise, with red at the windows.”
The fundraising campaign that Clinton started, which was overseen by her then chief of protocol, Capricia Marshall, raised Conger’s efforts to a new level and may ensure that the rooms have a reliable source of funds for years to come. Of the $20.3 million raised, $18 million will be used for preservation and the remainder will pay for efforts to “educate people worldwide about the rooms,” which are open for public tours, according to an article in the State Department’s internal magazine.
But Republicans’ suspicions about Clinton’s fundraising efforts are unlikely to be allayed by the work she did to ensure the rooms’ future. And it’s doubtful that her friends and reliable donors would have given so generously were Clinton not running the State Department.
—with additional reporting by Andrew Desiderio