It might just be coincidental timing, but it sure looks bad. You can make excuses until you’re blue in the face, but the fact that banking giant UBS’s donations to the Clinton Foundation suddenly increased dramatically after Hillary negotiated a favorable settlement for UBS in a dispute with the U.S. IRS regarding disclosure of tax evaders does not pass the smell test. When you throw in the fact that within a year or so UBS then partnered with the foundation for an inner-city loan program and paid Bill Clinton $1.5 million to join in a series of question-and-answer sessions with UBS Wealth Management Chief Executive Bob McCann, it starts to get positively stinky.
More on Clinton Foundation and UBS relationship
As an article in the Wall Street Journal notes, no direct evidence of any link between Hillary Clinton’s involvement in the settlement and the bank’s donations to the foundation, or its hiring of Bill Clinton, has been found. That said, the UBS situation is a typical, and troubling for many, example of how the Clintons’ private and political activities mingle in a politically unsavory fashion.
UBS officials have said their donations to the Clinton Foundation have nothing to do with the 2009 settlement with the IRS. “Any insinuation that any of our philanthropic or business initiatives stems from support received from any current or former government official is ludicrous and without merit,” a spokeswoman commented. She continued to note the speeches by the former president and the bank’s donations were part of a program related to the 2008 economic recession.
To be fair, the UBS situation was not typical. In most cases where the secretary of state was involved in business dealings, Hillary Clinton was going to bat for American companies seeking business abroad, and this time she was helping solve a problem for a large, unpopular foreign bank, and sticking her nose into into an area where government prosecutors had been taking the lead. The deal that only led to some 4500 tax evader names being disclosed out of the 52,000 names that were sought.
These kind of situations unquestionably hurt Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, as it gives Republicans and some Democrats more ammunition to criticize her for too many conflicts of interest.
“They’ve engaged in behavior to make people wonder: What was this about?” says Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig (a Democrat). “Was there something other than deciding the merits of these cases?”