Former President Bill Clinton, his wife, former secretary of state Hillary… (Scott Olson/Getty Images )
The Clintons are in fundraising mode again, inviting supporters to a musical weekend in London, a “night out” in San Francisco with Hillary and Chelsea and — in a select series of private, one-on-one meetings — the opportunity to write a check for $5 million to $10 million.
The invitations, delivered by phone and e-mail, resemble those of past political campaigns, complete with tiered levels and special access that depends on the size of the contribution.
But this current quest for cash, which shifts into high gear this fall, is not to fund a run for political office. It is to boost the financial standing of the newly rechristened Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
As he contemplates his legacy, former president Bill Clinton is trying to build an endowment with the declared goal of $200 million to $250 million to ensure that the charitable foundation he started lives on after his death.
The foundation’s causes are expanding from those championed by the former president — fighting AIDS, climate change and global poverty — to include newer domestic priorities embraced by wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea. And that expansion means more fundraising.
“We had to have another way to raise the funds that we need in order to keep the lights on,” said Bruce R. Lindsey, chairman of the foundation, speaking on behalf of the Clintons. “You cannot continue to rely upon a single individual to raise all the money you need to raise on a yearly basis. First of all, it is unbelievably grueling on President Clinton, and second of all, if anything were to happen to him it would end.”
While this fundraising push is philanthropic in nature, there are political implications. There is an unspoken deadline, for example. Clinton insiders said they hope the endowment drive will be completed ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign so that if Hillary Clinton chooses to run, the foundation fundraising would not distract from her campaign.
“It’s the optics of it — it would be horrible,” said one Clinton Foundation fundraiser who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the foundation’s strategy. “They just want to get it done to give her the option so if she wants to run, the foundation is taken care of.”
As the former secretary of state broadens her public profile with a series of major policy addresses, the Clinton Foundation has become the command post for all things Hillary. She is building a staff at its New York headquarters and launching programs on early childhood development and women’s and girls’ empowerment.
But some allies already see signs that the newly reorganized charity is a “pre-campaign organization,” helping enhance Clinton’s reputation and expand her network of supporters.
“People are tripping over themselves to contribute to the foundation now,” said one Clinton ally, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. “It’s a way for political supporters to help Hillary at a time when there is no campaign to contribute to.”
The action in Clintonland
Bill Clinton is not the first former president to build an endowment for his foundation, a common practice for non-profit organizations. Jimmy Carter has been raising money for years to endow the Carter Center, which focuses on peace and health care.
The amount the Clinton Foundation is seeking to raise is small compared with giant philanthropies; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for instance, has an endowment of about $37 billion.
Still, the ability to spend millions annually in pursuit of targeted good causes is something any politician would envy. And the pre-campaign aura around Hillary Clinton is driving more money and attention to the foundation.
“Are people saying, ‘Listen, get in line for Hillary for President by raising money for the foundation?’ ” the foundation fundraiser said. “You don’t hear anybody saying that. It’s almost implicit. If you want to be in the action, go where the action is. And right now, the action in Clintonland is at the foundation.”
A second foundation fundraiser said: “There are people who give to the foundation to cozy up to Hillary Clinton. Anybody who tells you that doesn’t happen is full of [crap].”
But Lindsey said he believes the foundation’s charitable projects should be reward enough to make donations. “I frankly don’t have a clue what the motives are of the people who support the Clinton Foundation,” he said. “I’m just grateful for their support. The work we do is important.”
The Clintons held a fundraiser Friday at celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton, N.Y., near their rented beach house, and have another planned on Sept. 9 in Washington. For $1,000 a person, guests can attend a cocktail reception at the Italian Embassy. And for $25,000 a couple, they get dinner with the Clintons at their residence across the street.