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Obama, Bill Clinton Reach Agreement on Foundation Limits

With Senator Hillary Clinton of New York designated by President-elect Barack Obama to be the next Secretary of State, the release of the donor's list to her husband's William Clinton Foundation has raised some eyebrows.

Several Middle East goverments gave millions of dollars to the foundation. So did some prominent individuals, including foreign politicians. Some observers say Hillary Clinton, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Secretary of State, may face questions about her actions in that post because of those donations to Bill Clinton's foundation.

"She [Hillary Clinton] possesses an extraordinary intelligence and a remarkable work ethic," President-elect Barack Obama said. "I am proud that she will be our next Secretary of State."

Senator Hillary Clinton, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, will come to the job with more than her legislative experience. She also has a husband, Bill Clinton, who was President for two terms.

He has created the William J. Clinton Foundation. International donors, including some governments, have given the foundation millions of dollars to fund his presidential library and humanitarian projects.

Bill Clinton's actions are not unique. His immediate predecessor, George Herbert Walker Bush, did much the same, as George Washington University international affairs professor Henry Nau notes.

"He built a [presidential] library. People contributed to the library. People contributed to his activities after he left office. And, his son becomes President of the United States," Nau said. "I do not recall a lot of concern at that time as to who contributed to what in the case of his father that might have, in some way, tainted the decisions that his son would make."

But what separates the first President Bush and President Clinton is how they are perceived, according to Cato Institute analyst John Samples.

"You have a former president who has ethical controversies in his past, both for internal consumption in the United States and abroad," he said.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah gave the foundation between 10 and $25 million. The governments of Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Norway, Australia, and Brunei, among others, also made large contributions. But, the donations do not appear to be influence-buying, according to Henry Nau.

"These countries give this money, I think, generally for goodwill," he explained. "They are part of a global system. They are part of a global community. They have special ties to the United States.

But, to help avoid any questions about Bill Clinton having influence over Hillary Clinton's actions as Secretary of State, the Obama transition team reached an agreement on December 12 with the Clinton Foundation.

The terms of the agreement include the foundation releasing the names of its past donors, and reporting new contributors on an annual basis. The foundation will allow review of its donations and actions by State Department ethics officials. The foundation's Clinton Global Initiative program, which does humanitarian work overseas, will be separately incorporated and can no longer take money from foreign governments.

The agreement is important for Mr. Obama, the Secretary-designate, and the foundation according to John Samples.

"The [donor] disclosure, and the consultation with the State Department, is an attempt to make sure that [those involved with] policy decision making, from his wife [Hillary Clinton] at the Department of State to the White House, are fully informed about what is going on with a man who is going to be a private citizen still - - Bill Clinton - - and his activities. And, how they might not impinge on policy, but [rather], on how that policy is received," Samples said.

Some observers say that with the Obama-Clinton Foundation agreement, the problem of donors being perceived to have undue influence with the Secretary of State may actually have been lessened. Henry Nau cites one donor, Kuwait, as an example.

"Maybe, these disclosures mean that these contributions will have less influence, because they are going to be public when she is involved with those countries. And, if the media does its job and reminds the reader that those contributions were made and she [for instance] is dealing with some issue that is of consequence to the Kuwaiti government, then that will be, I think, helpful," he said.

Nau adds that the news media, always looking for controversy, will no doubt carefully watch Hillary Clinton's actions as Secretary of State, and raise questions when something may appear untoward.