By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
One of the problems with the Clintons’ post-presidential activities is that they mess with the deal the United States makes with its presidents.
That deal has always been this: You will perform the world’s most stressful job for four to eight years. You’ll be called upon to make life-and-death decisions that can affect millions of people around the world. The system limits your power, but many Americans will blame you for everything that goes wrong. The job will turn your hair gray. But when it’s over, you can cash in, get rich, and perform good works for the rest of your life.
Oh, and one more thing: You don’t get to come back. In fact, the 22nd Amendment, ratified in 1951, expressly forbids a president from serving in the White House past two terms.
It’s not a perfect deal because conflicts of interest still are possible. This time next year, President Obama, like other ex-presidents and other high-ranking government officials, likely will be charging hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech. Those future huge paydays could affect the decisions he makes while still in office.
But Americans tolerate that possibility because we try not to stand in the way of anybody getting rich, and because ex-presidents are really nice things to have. President Carter has built houses around the world with Habitat for Humanity and has led the fight to nearly eradicate Guinea worm disease. President George W. Bush’s work in Africa is an extension of his good work with that continent while in office. President Clinton has helped lower the cost of HIV/AIDS medication for millions of people worldwide.
And for Arkansas, it’s been an especially good deal. The Clinton Library has been a catalyst for developing a part of Little Rock that once was a sea of decaying warehouses. The Clinton School of Public Service offers the nation’s first master of public service degree and has brought to Little Rock hundreds of eager young future leaders, as well as many high-profile speakers. A few weeks ago, Presidents Clinton and Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared together at Little Rock’s Central High.
But remember the part about presidents not being allowed to come back? It’s unclear how it applies to the first spouse.
When Bill Clinton left office 16 years ago, Hillary Clinton was 53 years old and being elected to a seat in the United States Senate. It was no secret then that she wanted to be president, which she indeed tried to become in 2008. She then became secretary of state.
While all of this was happening, her husband was leading the Clinton Foundation, which the Associated Press reported has raised more than $2 billion since 2001 – including between $100,001 and $250,000 from Donald Trump.
Did donors lend their support because they really supported the foundation’s work, or was part of their motivation gaining access and influence with Hillary Clinton, who was still very much in power and potentially soon would have more?
The Associated Press has reported that 85 of the 154 private citizens with whom Clinton had meetings or phone conversations during the first half of her time as secretary of state had donated to the Clinton Foundation. She also met with 16 foreign governments who gave money to the foundation.
In response, the Clinton campaign said the AP “cherry-picked” from Clinton’s schedule and that she had 1,700 other meetings. The Clintons did not draw a salary from the foundation. Would it be better if those millions of people didn’t get cheaper AIDS drugs?
At the very least, there’s clearly the potential for people to try to buy access. Aware of how this looks, the Clintons have announced they’ll step away from the foundation if she is elected president, although daughter Chelsea will stay on the board – which means the family is still very much involved.
It’s not the kind of situation anticipated by the 22nd Amendment or by the American people. Regardless of what the Clintons do, the question remains: When the first spouse is still young and has a good chance of someday becoming president, does that change the deal?