Monday, April 7, 2008

$109 million the Easy Way

Much has been made of the release of the Clinton's tax returns on earnings since they left the White House. To be sure, the timing was absolutely - er, Clintonian, given that the release occurred last Friday afternoon; a cynic would be forgiven for concluding that an attempt was made to get the story into the weekend news cycle, such that it would be old news by today.

According to CNN, the Clinton's reported joint income of over $109 million between 2000 and 2007, with
$33.7 million paid in federal taxes and $10.2 million in charitable donations (nearly $6 million of which went to the Clinton Family Foundation.)

Curiously, as noted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, "most of the [foundation's] disbursements came only after Mrs. Clinton announced her Presidential run," which might lead some to suspect that the foundation's purpose was to facilitate "strategic giving." That the foundation was not listed on Ms. Clinton's Senate Financial Disclosure forms on five occassions (although it did appear on a disclosure for 2006) also bears scrutiny - and has raised the ire of Judicial Watch.

On the matter of charitable contributions, as with all things Clinton, no good deed is worth the effort unless it brings credit upon the Clintons, who were proud to tell us all that they contributed 9.5 percent of their adjusted gross income (AGI) to charities during the eight years in question. This versus an average of 3.1 percent of AGI donated in cash contributions by similarly situated taxpayers in 2005.

The phrase "apples and oranges" immediately comes to mind; for 2005, the Clintons had an AGI of $18.05 million, from which they made a total of $1.75 million in charitable contributions to their foundation. As reported by the Washington Post,
the Clintons took a full tax write-off for all of the monies they contributed to the foundation between 2000 and 2006, despite the fact that "the foundation gave away less than half that amount -- about $2.5 million."
For 2005, the foundation distributed a total of $549,000, roughly 3.0 percent of their 2005 AGI. (Never mind the fact that IRS data indicates that most taxpayers in the Clinton's tax bracket made non-cash donations in an amount roughly equal to their cash contributions, or about 6.2 percent of their AGI.)

As the Clintons have had considerable time to sanitize these records, it's almost pointless to scrutinize them in a vacuum. (Thankfully, many intrepid bloggers will nevertheless ignore my advice and go over the returns with a fine toothed comb. It's the Clintons, you just never know.) Given the opacity of the Clinton's past financial dealings, it is perhaps best not to look at the returns in their own right, but in the context of Bill Clinton's post-presidency financial adventures. For instance, it is legitimate to ask what services Mr. Clinton provided to billionaire financier Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Group in exchange for the $15 million he earned as an adviser since 2000
(with $5 million received in 2005 alone).

Similarly, one could reasonably question why the Clintons have refused up to now to release the donor lists for the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation.
As reported by the New York Times, there has been controversy surrounding the timing of Mr. Clinton's intervention in a uranium mining deal between Canadian financier Frank Giustra and the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, and a $31.3 million donation from Giustra to the Clinton Foundation (along with a pledge to contribute an additional $100 million.)

For its part, the Wall Street Journal has also reported on the ties between Clinton and Giustra.

In September 2005, Bill Clinton and his aides staged a three-day philanthropic event at which they gathered hundreds of millions of dollars of commitments from the rich and powerful to help the world's poor. Mr. Clinton's staff also found time to help a wealthy Canadian businessman named Frank Giustra.

At the gathering, a Clinton aide arranged for Mr. Giustra to be introduced to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, says a person familiar with the matter. The men put up two chairs in a hallway and talked for about 10 minutes, says this person, who adds that Mr. Uribe was impressed with the Canadian businessman's knowledge of his country. Later in the day, a top Clinton aide told Mr. Giustra that he had heard the meeting with Mr. Uribe went well, this person says.

Since then, Mr. Giustra has been in a number of meetings with Mr. Uribe, including two last year that also involved Mr. Clinton, said a spokesman for the Colombian leader. The spokesman said Mr. Uribe has discussed business matters with Mr. Giustra, but never in meetings attended by Mr. Clinton. He added that Mr. Giustra didn't receive any special treatment because of his Clinton connection.
The Journal article went on to describe the nature of Mr. Giustra's dealings in Columbia.
Among Mr. Giustra's business dealings in Colombia: Last May, a publicly traded Vancouver mining company, now operating under the name Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp., spent more than $250 million to purchase control of a company that operated Colombian oil fields in conjunction with Ecopetrol S.A., the national oil company. In the past year, Pacific Rubiales has also signed a pipeline deal with Ecopetrol and been invited by the Colombian national petroleum agency to do further oil-development work in the country.

Endeavour Financial, where Mr. Giustra served as chairman, was adviser to the Vancouver-based company that made the Colombian purchase last year. This purchase was among the matters Mr. Giustra has discussed with President Uribe, says a person familiar with the matter. Endeavour received more than two million shares of stock for its role, according to Canadian regulatory filings. Last February, Pacific Rubiales stock traded on the Toronto Venture Exchange for about 30 cents a share. By October [2007] it had gone as high as $1.75 a share.
It is important that I make clear the fact that I do not begrudge the Clintons their newfound affluence. But it is within the purview of reasonable people to ask how this wealth was obtained and shielded from the very taxation that both Bill and Hillary seem to favor for others. I will indulge myself one personal aside in regards to the foregoing. If I as a lowly scribe with no journalistic pedigree or entree to centers of power (and further handicapped by a nine day-old baby for whom sleep is optional) can figure out that the Clinton's "charitable" giving is an elaborate sham and the sources of much of the Clinton family wealth are at least questionable, why hasn't the MSM brought us similar reporting on such matters?

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