News and analysis
October 14, 2016

Clinton Foundation Chief Lays Out Changes in Letter to Peers

J Pat Carter, AP Images

Preparing for a prospective Hillary Clinton presidency, Donna Shalala, head of the Clinton Foundation, detailed a dramatic paring down of the charity's work in a letter to some 200 other foundation leaders.

In a letter to some 200 foundation leaders made public Friday, the Clinton Foundation took steps to clarify details and appeal to peers as it readies for a dramatic paring down of tens of millions of dollars in programming.

The letter isn’t an explicit request for other foundations to step in where the Clinton Foundation will be forced to pull back should Hillary Clinton become president. Still, with Ms. Clinton leading Republican rival Donald Trump in the polls, the charity’s president, Donna Shalala, made clear her organization’s contraction will be felt widely.

"We have learned from many of you that carrying out a major transition responsibly requires careful planning," Ms. Shalala wrote, citing work by the Ford and MacArthur foundations to wind down grant making in areas they had long supported.

She added, "This transition requires a reasonable amount of time to complete."

In a telephone interview with The Chronicle Friday, Ms. Shalala said that the Clinton Foundation had communicated its plan in pieces in public comments, op-eds, and media interviews, and that the letter is meant to put those pieces into a single document. It is not unusual for foundations to address one another when major changes are afoot, she said.

Ms. Shalala said that she has been in communication with some foundation peers in recent months — during which the Clintons’ charity has endured waves of scrutiny and criticism — and that colleagues have been "very supportive."

"There will still be a robust, dynamic Clinton Foundation," Ms. Shalala said. But she acknowledged that a prospective Hillary Clinton administration would require the New York-headquartered organization to become an entirely different operation.

Ms. Shalala said that it has been "painful" and "not easy" for Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea to try and figure out a new strategy for the former president’s legacy charity. In concert with the letter, the Clinton Foundation also introduced a new communications campaign Friday, titled "Behind the Numbers."

The campaign, an effort to tell the human stories behind the foundation’s work, is the latest offensive in months of work by its staff to fight back against a drumbeat of media coverage of the organization’s fundraising from foreign and corporate sources and alleged "pay to play" culture while Ms. Clinton served as secretary of state.

The Clinton Foundation had already laid out, in broad strokes, plans for a major reduction in fundraising and programming should Hillary Clinton become president. In August, Bill Clinton said the foundation would stop accepting all foreign and corporate donations, and that he would resign from the board.

Irrespective of the election outcome, the former president also said he was dissolving the Clinton Global Initiative, which tapped corporate titans to pay for solutions to critical social problems, and that its 12th meeting, held in New York last month, would be the last.

In her letter, Ms. Shalala reiterated plans to either hand off the Clinton Foundation’s international programs to other organizations or spin them off into stand-alone 501(c)(3)s. Two of its biggest affiliates, the Clinton Health Access Initiative and the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, would become independent entities, for example.

"While plans are still in development for the remaining programs of the foundation that would need to be transitioned, we are making good progress," Ms. Shalala wrote. "We have been in initial discussions with partners who might potentially take over these programs."

The foundation will continue a number of domestic programs, including efforts to combat childhood obesity and opioid abuse, she wrote, "most of which are supported by partnerships with U.S.-based independent foundations like yours." Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock, Ark. will also remain within the foundation’s purview.

Read the full letter here

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