True or False?

Is Hillary Clinton Guilty of Pay-to-Play Politics?

Did Clinton Foundation donors really benefit from her State Department term, as Trump running mate Mike Pence and campaign manager Paul Manafort claimed Sunday?

08.15.16 12:45 AM ET

By Linda Qiu and Katie Sanders

Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence lamented the “pay-to-play” politics of Hillary Clinton’s State Department on Sunday, pointing to newly released emails among State Department staffers and Clinton Foundation employees to back him up.

Pressed by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace for clear evidence of Clinton acting in a donor’s interest as secretary of state, Pence shifted.

“Well, I think that’s what we need to find out. We really do. The public has a right to know, because this—really and truly, this is exactly the kind of pay-to-play politics the American people are sick and tired of,” Pence said.

Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort tried to attack Clinton on a different front Sunday, turning to her newly released tax returns. The Clinton campaign used the release to renew calls for Donald Trump to disclose his tax returns, which he has said are under audit and cannot be released. Pence has signaled he may release his returns.

Trump’s campaign deflected questions Sunday about when and if the Republican presidential nominee will release his income tax returns after Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine made their 2015 returns public last week.

State of the Union host Jake Tapper played video of Trump saying 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney needed to release his returns because otherwise people will think “what’s wrong,” and then asked Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort if Trump would release his 2008 returns, which are not under audit.

Manafort repeated the line about the audit, adding in an attack about Clinton’s tax disclosures.

“Mr. Trump’s position has been clear from the beginning: He’s under audit. When the audit is completed, he’ll release his returns,” he said. “By the way, in Mrs. Clinton’s returns, you saw a lot of income coming from donors to the Clinton Foundation and people who benefited from her State Department term as well. I haven’t seen any stories on that yet.”

Does the former secretary of state’s tax return really show pay-the-Clintons-to-play politics?

Not exactly. Manafort’s claim rates Half True.

About 15 percent of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s 2015 income came from two educational businesses with ties to the Clinton Foundation. It is a lot of money in raw dollars, but not a lot compared to the couple’s other sources of income. What’s more, we found no evidence that the firms paying Bill Clinton for his consulting work profited from the State Department, as Manafort said.

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According to their returns, the Clintons made about $10.5 million in 2015, the bulk from their speaking fees ($5.5 million) and book royalties ($3.1 million).

Though the forms do not specify who paid the couple to speak in 2015, they do show that Bill Clinton also made about $1.6 million after expenses for consulting services. His clients were Laureate Education and GEMS Education, two international education firms that donated between $1 million and $5 million each to the Clinton Foundation.

Laureate Education, a network of more than 80 institutions based in Baltimore, has also partnered with the Clinton Global Initiative “on a number of initiatives since 2008,” according to its website. It named Bill Clinton an honorary chancellor between 2010 and 2014 (his tax returns do not show income earned from that role).

Similarly, GEMS Education, one of the world’s largest private-school operators based in Dubai, is a Clinton Global Initiative strategic partner.

Older tax returns show the Clintons received more money from the groups in other years. Bill Clinton was paid $16 million by Laureate and $5.6 million by GEMS between 2010 and 2014 for his consulting services. Politico has additionally reported that a former Clinton fundraiser who was given a special State Department post also had business ties to both firms.

But while all of this demonstrates a strong link between Laureate and GEMS and the Clintons, it doesn’t prove corruption, as Manafort implies. His suggestion that they “benefited from [Clinton’s] State Department tenure” is not backed by the record.

We searched, a comprehensive database that tracks government grants and contracts, to see if either firm received not just State Department but any federal funding. Our search turned up nothing for Laureate or GEMS. (The Clinton campaign referred us to our previous reporting debunking the link between Laureate and the State Department.)

The Clintons did disclose who paid for their speeches in 2013. Hillary Clinton received between $225,000 and $400,000 per speech from Wall Street clients such as Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, while Bill Clinton’s highest fee was $750,000 from a Swedish bank. Many of the firms have government interests, according to the Associated Press.

The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment to back up Manafort’s claim.

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