Editor's note: An abbreviated version of this letter appeared in the New York Post's print edition on April 29, 2015.
The New York Post’s incorrect report on the Clinton Foundation’s finances demonstrates either a fundamental misunderstanding or willful misrepresentation of the basic workings of large non-profit organizations. We will not stand by and let the facts be twisted for a moment longer.
The Post claims that the Foundation spent only $9 million to help others in 2013. This is patently false. The $9 million figure, reported in our tax forms, called 990s, represents only the direct grants we made to outside entities. The Foundation is not primarily a grant making organization—we support our own projects with our own staff on the ground. Other large global non-profits that deliver their own projects also show very small dollar amounts for grant making because it is not how they operate. All told, we spent more than $68 million in 2013 on work that is improving millions of lives around the world.
The Post claims that the Foundation had a surplus of $64 million in 2013. This figure is highly misleading because the Foundation took in nearly $59 million to help build its endowment—an endeavor the Foundation began for the first time two years ago—money that must be saved and invested to ensure our future sustainability and not allocated to immediate programmatic work.
The Post claims that the Foundation “spends far below the 75 percent rate of spending that nonprofit experts say a good charity should spend on its mission.” Once again, this is based on an egregious misreading of the Foundation’s financial documents. The Foundation, together with its affiliated but independent entity the Clinton Health Access Initiative, actually allocates more than 88 percent of its expenditures towards our programmatic work.
The Post claims that the bulk of the Foundation’s 2013 expenditures went to administration, travel, and salaries. Once again, this is demonstrably false. Only 9.9 percent of the Foundation’s expenditures went to management and general expenses. The Foundation’s salaries are completely in line with other leading large non-profits, and we periodically review at least three nationally recognized not-for-profit compensation surveys to weigh all staff compensation including top management. In addition, we engage an independent compensation consultant to obtain an independent review to ensure consistency and compliance.
The Post includes an allegation from Bill Allison, a senior fellow at the Sunshine Organization, that “it seems like the Clinton Foundation operates as a slush fund for the Clintons.” The fact is that no money raised for the Clinton Foundation goes to the Clintons personally, ever. The Clintons draw no salary from the Foundation and derive no financial benefit from the Foundation.
The Post also incorrectly alleges that the Clinton Foundation “failed to disclose millions of dollars it received in foreign donations from 2010 to 2012 and is hurriedly refiling five years’ worth of tax returns after reporters raised questions about the discrepancies in its filings last week.”
In regards to our 990s, the Foundation has said that after a voluntary external review is completed we will likely refile forms for some years. While the Post and others want to suggest that this indicates a failure to accurately report our total revenue, that is clearly not the case. Our total revenue was accurately reported on each year's form—our error was that government grants were mistakenly combined with other donations. Those same grants have always been properly listed on our audited financial statements, and broken out on our contributor list for anyone to see on our website.
The Post makes much of the fact that Charity Navigator recently declined to rate the Foundation, but Charity Navigator itself says this “simply means that the organization doesn't meet our criteria. A lack of a rating does not indicate a positive or negative assessment by Charity Navigator.” As most people working in the non-profit sector know, Charity Navigator is currently transitioning to a new model of rating charities which they readily admit and believe is necessary to keep up with the new ways in which non-profits operate. In fact, when they wrote us in 2014 to inform us of their decision to withhold a rating, they said, “We commend the Clinton Foundation's choice to voluntarily comply with every one of our accountability and transparency standards as well as your efforts to be at the forefront of impact assessment of philanthropic work.”
It’s clear that the Post was more interested in feeding their own manufactured storyline about the Clintons than reporting the facts about one of the leanest, most transparent, and most effective non-profits in the world. Otherwise, they would have done a better job doing their homework—or at least first learned how to read a 990 tax form before going to print. Sadly, we don’t expect to hear a fair accounting of the Clinton Foundation’s work from them anytime soon.