May 11, 2015 5:14 AM

If Clinton wins, family foundation faces uncertain future

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) Hillary Rodham Clinton's family foundation, already the subject of intense scrutiny in the early days of her White House campaign, faces an uncertain future if she is elected president.

Among the unresolved questions: Who would be able to raise money for the Clinton Foundation? Could it begin new projects, both at home and overseas? Is there any way it could operate unburdened by conflicts of interest, real or perceived, while one of its founders sits in the Oval Office?

"I'm not sure the rules have been invented to apply to this situation," said Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector, a network of nonprofits, foundations and corporate giving programs.

While Clinton stepped down from the foundation's board after launching her 2016 campaign, husband Bill and daughter Chelsea still hold leadership roles. They currently have no plans to stop their fundraising and management activities during the campaign, nor is there a blueprint for their involvement if Hillary Clinton wins the election, people close to the foundation said.

Options being considered include Chelsea Clinton taking the helm, with her father playing a more behind-the-scenes role; fully banning the acceptance of donations from abroad; and implementing a more rigorous vetting process for domestic donors.

Neither the foundation nor Clinton's campaign will pledge publicly to give voters answers about the organization's future before the November 2016 election, but some people close to the Clintons want decisions made before Election Day.

The people close to the Clintons and the foundation spoke on condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to speak publicly about internal planning.

Campaign officials are also pushing the Clinton Foundation to be more aggressive in answering the criticism of its high-dollar fundraising. The organization has raised more than $2 billion since former President Bill Clinton left office, money it uses to run 11 initiatives focused on global health, climate change, economic development, wellness and opportunities for women and girls.

That aggressive fundraising is currently the subject of intense scrutiny, as Republicans and others look for potential conflicts of interests and signs that donors to the foundation sought to influence the Obama administration during Hillary Clinton's four years as secretary of state.

The Clintons deny any improprieties. But the former president has started to hint that if his wife wins the White House, he may have to step down from the organization to avoid blurring the lines between U.S. government policy and the interests of donors.

"I might if I were asked to do something in the public interest that I had an obligation to do. Or I might take less of an executive role," Clinton said in a recent interview with NBC News. "But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Some people close to the Clintons and the foundation say it's unlikely the former president could continue directly raising money if his wife wins election. But they say that could be a slow and difficult realization for him to come to, given how much of his post-White House legacy is linked to the foundation's work.

"The challenge isn't necessarily the organization surviving the founders it's the founders letting go of the organization," said Steven Lawrence, the research director at the Foundation Center, an organization that collects data on philanthropic organizations.

There is far less certainty about the role Chelsea Clinton might play in the foundation's future. The 35-year-old has taken on a more direct role in recent years and is an obvious choice to take over from her parents. But despite being well-liked by donors, some question whether she would be able to raise the same level of money as her popular father.

Clinton Foundation officials have discussed how to sustain the organization financially if the former president can no longer directly raise money. The conversations with donors and others have focused not just on the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming president, but also the possibility that Bill Clinton's health leaves him unable to keep up his role as chief fundraiser.

A drive launched in 2013 has endowed a $250 million fund to help keep programs running under those circumstances.

Donna Shalala, the former Health and Human Services secretary and University of Miami president who takes over as the foundation's president and chief executive next month, is expected to do her own accounting of its activities. Her appointment is also seen as a signal to donors that there would be continuity in leadership if the Clinton family becomes less involved in its operations.

The foundation is also weighing whether new projects, both in the U.S. and abroad, could start during a Clinton presidency, or whether worry about potential conflicts of interest would limit it to its existing work. While the foundation says there were no conflicts during Clinton's four years as the nation's chief diplomat, the potential for such conflicts is far greater should she become president.

The foundation has already agreed to stop taking money from most foreign governments during her campaign, with exceptions for six Western nations.

Campaign officials suggested additional changes to foundation activities are not imminent. Spokesman Brian Fallon said that for now, Clinton is "proud of the foundation's work and glad that her husband and daughter continue to lead its day-to-day mission."


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