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The problem isn’t that the Clintons are rich, it’s where the money came from

Spencer Platt

Of late, Hillary Clinton has sustained some criticism for inartfully handling questionsabout her family's wealth. But the real political problem for the Clintons isn't how much money they have: it's where that money came from.

Between January 2001 and January 2013, Bill Clinton hauled in $104.9 million in speaking fees. The majority of that income came from foreign speeches, and Clinton's most loyal sponsors have been in the financial industry. This passage from the Washington Post's excellent deep dive (which comes with a really helpful interactive) into Clinton's income won't thrill liberals:

Goldman Sachs has hired Bill Clinton for eight speeches over the years totaling $1.35 million, many of them client meetings in such locales as Paris, Phoenix, and the South Carolina beach resort of Kiawah Island.

But Clinton's speaking fees probably aren't his most politically troublesome financial entanglements. The real money — and the really tricky sponsors — have been flowing into the Clinton Global Initiative.

CGI's funders were initially hard to track, but as part of a deal with the Obama administration, Clinton opened the books. Donors included the government of Saudi Arabia, Norway, Kuwait, Qatar, Brunei, Oman, Italy and Jamaica. The Blackwater Training Center threw in $10-25,000, and there were big donations from Citigroup, Lehman Brothers, AIG, and Goldman Sachs.

And as Pro Publica noted at the time, there were some donors we still didn't quite know about:

Clinton Global Initiative's "partner organizations" are not listed since they're not donating to the foundation itself. For instance, Coca-Cola has committed $13.5 million to reforestation in Brazil and in return been invited to Clinton Global Initiative functions. You'll have to dig elsewhere for that info.

Others on the list show up lower than they might if all their contributions to the Clintons' various initiatives were tallied. Vinod Gupta, a businessman, has spent several million keeping Bill Clinton on his payroll as a consultant and donating to his various charitable events, according to National Public Radio. But the Clinton Foundation only lists his contributions as $500,000 to $1 million.

It's hard to say how all this will play out in a campaign. CGI, after all, the spent the vast bulk of that money on important humanitarian projects — and it's a reasonable argument to say that that cash did more for the world in Clinton's hands than in Qatar's coffers. But it's also reasonable to wonder whether Qatar donated that money to make sure they had a relationship with Clinton if they ever needed one.

Moreover, there are likely donations Clinton took that looked fine at the time but will seem odious in retrospect. The politics of taking money from Citigroup were very different in 2004 than in 2009. And there might be governments, foreign officials, or companies lurking in those rolls that arouse little political interest today but will be shocking in 2016.