News and analysis
December 22, 2015

Charity Navigator Removes Clinton Foundation From Watch List

Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg, Getty Images

The Clinton Foundation was added to Charity Navigator's watch list earlier this year after investigations by news organizations but has now been removed by the organization.

Charity Navigator said Tuesday it has removed the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation from its watch list, a red flag used by the charity watchdog to signal to donors that questions have been raised about a group’s operations.

The move comes a little more than a month after the foundation filed its 2014 Form 990, as well as amended returns for the previous four years, to the IRS.

The Clinton Foundation, placed on the list on March 14, "provided publicly accessible information regarding their amended tax forms for 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013," Charity Navigator said in a post on its website. "This information, along with the public memorandum submitted addressing the other issues raised in the watch list entry, meets our requirements for removal."

Lindsey Struck, chair of the donor advisory issuance committe at Charity Navigator, told The Chronicle on Tuesday that the foundation’s "archived watch list" information, which details the concerns raised and the steps taken to address them, will remain on the Charity Navigator website for one year.

Thereafter, "assuming nothing else comes up that is cause for reexamination, it will fall away," Ms. Struck said.

As a donor-advocacy organization, the watchdog group has a responsibility to provide information that may influence donors’ ability to give well, she said. There was high interest in the Clinton Foundation’s placement on the watchlist, Ms. Struck said.

Foreign Government Concerns

The Clinton Foundation was added to the list earlier this year after investigations by news organizations, including the Wall Street Journal and Politico, raised questions about whether corporations and foreign governments used donations to the charity to curry favor with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

The New York-based foundation faced intense scrutiny as Mrs. Clinton readied to announce her bid for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president. The foundation’s placement on the watch list was brandished by Clinton foes as evidence of mismanagement, or worse, at the eponymous charity.

From the start, the Clinton Foundation challenged being added to the list. It wrote to Charity Navigator saying that there was no proof of wrongdoing in any of the news stories.

"Our supporters donate to the Clinton Foundation because they want to see lives improved; they wanted better opportunity across the globe," the charity wrote.

Subsequently, the foundation took multiple steps to enhance transparency and avoid what it described as "even the appearance of a conflict of interest."

Mrs. Clinton resigned from the foundation’s board in April as her presidential campaign became official. The foundation said it would update its donor rolls quarterly, with the first published in July. It also announced it would accept donations from only a handful of foreign governments friendly to the United States.

Last month, it filed five years worth of Form 990s, saying they are one way the foundation remains transparent and accountable to the public.

In response to Charity Navigator's move on Tuesday, the president of the Clinton Foundation, Donna Shalala, said: "The Clinton Foundation is committed to making a difference across the globe, excellence in our operations, and remaining accountable to our supporters and the public. Today's action by Charity Navigator affirms that commitment. We are well positioned to build on our successes and expand our impact in the years ahead."

Send an email to Megan O’Neil.