The State Department acknowledged Thursday that the Clinton Foundation failed to follow protocol when it accepted $500,000 from the Algerian government to benefit earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.
The foundation's acceptance of millions of dollars in donations from foreign governments quickly become an issue in the early stages of the 2016 presidential race this week, with Republicans calling the revelations "disqualifying."
When Hillary Clinton became secretary of state in 2009, the foundation started by her husband, Bill Clinton, signed an agreement with the nascent Obama administration agreeing to limited foreign government contributions and requiring the foundation to disclose far more information about its donors than required by law.
But, as The Washington Post first reported Wednesday, the foundation took millions from foreign governments while Clinton was secretary of state, including the Algerian contribution, which appears to violate the 2009 ethics agreement because the foundation failed to clear it with the State Department. The foundation says it was an oversight.
During a briefing with reporters Thursday, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki acknowledged “the process was not followed” on this particular donation, but defended the foundation. “At the time, as you all may remember, the United States was, of course, government was supporting worldwide efforts to provide humanitarian relief for Haiti,” she said. She also noted that the foundation’s commitment to the ethics agreement “has been over and above the letter of the law” and said this one lapse shouldn’t undermine confidence. “The fact that the process was not followed in this particular incident does not raise concerns with us,” Psaki added.
The Foundation, for its part, acknowledged the mistake, and noted it was still disclosed on the foundation’s website. "The Embassy of Algeria made an unsolicited donation of $500K to Clinton Foundation Haiti Relief fund. As the Clinton Foundation did with all donations it received for earthquake relief, the entire amount of Algeria's contribution was distributed as aid in Haiti. This donation was disclosed publicly on the Clinton Foundation website, however, the State Department should have also been formally informed,” the charitable group said in a statement.
It’s a relatively small amount of money for a foundation that raises hundreds of millions of dollars a year. And it’s not entirely clear the lapse violated the letter of the agreement, since it provided different restrictions on specific programs, but did not specifically mention Haiti relief.
Nonetheless, Republicans are eager to make hay of the controversy. The conservative outside group American Crossroads slammed Clinton on foreign donations in a 30-second web ad and speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday took aim at likely Democratic presidential candidate on the issue.