I was having a conversation with a friend about the election campaign. He's not a fan of Hillary Clinton, though has said he would vote for her if the election in his state was close. Since the state he lives in is blue, however, and not close, he feels safe voting for one of the third-party candidates.
But he does not like Ms. Clinton. He has a lot of theories about what he doesn't like about both her and her husband. And while I understand his points, I don't remotely agree with them. Most of his quibbles are about maybes and "there's all this smoke" and what-ifs and questions. But he's never brought up anything specific that points to actual, real-life wrong-doing.
As you might imagine, he brought up the Clinton Family Foundations and all the questions that were raised about potential conflicts-of-interests and actions. I acknowledged the questions, but said that's all they were. Questions. His concern was that public policy could have been changed because of donations, which is a fair concern, except that I said there's absolutely no evidence that any ever was. And besides, I added, what on earth would she have to gain from it?? It's not money that goes into her pockets. It's a charitable foundation! And one with an A-rating from CharityWatch, which says that 88% of money raised goes to the charity programs it runs. And the Foundation gets so much in donations, significant amounts of money, from so many different sources, what was there to gain from screwing around because of any single donation, which the Foundation could get along just fine without, no matter the dollar amount? Besides which, she wasn't even a director of the Foundation until after she resigned as Secretary of State.
Well, my friend said, she and Bill get salaries, so the more money the Foundation raised, the more they could enrich themselves.
It's a swell-sounding point, with just one pesky problem. Bill Clinton does not receive a salary at the Clinton Foundation, and Hillary Clinton didn’t either when she served on the Board of Directors. So, there was no enriching themselves even that way. There was even less of a reason that my friend's concerns had any merit, and I sent him an email to let him know this.
So, what was his argument now to that?
He wrote back to say that he didn't mean to suggest that the Clintons themselves got a salary directly from the Foundation. (Though, yes, he did suggest exactly that -- and said it.) He said what he was referring to was large salaries that could go to their workers and cronies and whoever else.
To be fair, he noted correctly that the Clintons made $10 million last year, mostly from speaking fees, and have become wealthy from that over the years. So, they wouldn't even need salaries from the Foundation. And he added that they admirably give a lot of that money to charity - but then he had to toss in a "dig" that the charity that they gave most to was the Clinton Foundation. And he added that the Foundation sustains their very wealthy lifestyle, so it does indeed pay for that part of their lives. And noted that I probably wouldn't agree with him.
Well, he was at least right that didn't agree with almost anything he wrote. So, I replied --
First of all, I said, if the scandalous case that a person is trying to make has come down to “They’re making money for other people who are doing great work for a charity,” then I think one is losing the argument.
And given all the money the Clintons do make from speaking -- $10 million last year alone! -- no, I don’t think the Foundation does anything for their lifestyle. And seriously…their lifestyle? Their freaking lifestyle? That's the complaint now? All coming from this magnificent charity that most observers say does profound good. (And I won't even bother to make the comparison to Donald Trump's "lifestyle," since that's not a standard one should go by.)
And to make an actual complaint that the money they give to charity goes to their own charity...seriously?? By all accounts, even their critics, the Clinton Family Foundation is A Great Charity. So, they're reinvesting their money in a charity that they know does so much good -- and with their added money will do even more good. Seriously?
What I left out was a "Sigh..."
I understand there are questions. Questions are fine. But whenever I hear someone, especially pundits on TV or print journalists go on about how we have "all these questions," and all this "smoke" that's there, and we have questions, questions, there are question, what I always want to say back at the screen and say -- Right, there are a lot of questions. So, you're a journalist, look into them. Track down the answers. Do some reporting. And if you actually ever find something, anything that is literally bad...then great, report it. And at that point you can have a real, serious investigation. But if you don't find anything, after all your reporting, then in the end -- they're just "questions."
And questions by themselves are meaningless. Anyone can ask "questions." Hey, I can ask a dozen questions to any journalist, any pundit, any person, to you reading this, even to me without putting much thought in it, all of which would sound like something devious is going on. Who did you vote for? In what ways does that affect how you report on the candidate? How do we know? What do your papers shows? What charities did you give money to? How does that impact what you write? How many times have you moved in your life? Why so many times? How many different jobs have you had? Can we see your performance reports from you jobs?. And on and on and on. And all those questions are silly and meaningless. But...they're questions. We have questions. A lot of questions. There's all this smoke, billows of smoke from the heat of the barrage of questions we're asking. Smoke, more smoke, and all of these questions. We have questions!
So, fine, ask them. And look intot them. And if there's no story there, if you can find no actual wrong-doing, then move on. But just having "questions" and thinking that that by itself is substantive is not "where there's smoke there's fire," but rather smoke-and-mirrors and about as empty as you can get.
Other than maybe being bothered by someone who raises a lot of money for charity so that others doing noble charitable work can be well-paid. Because if your complaints comes down to that, boy howdy you have lost the high-ground.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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