In years past, the Clinton Foundation enjoyed significant donations from individuals and countries that sought to purchase influence in Washington. But now, the McCain Institute is their new darling, having received large sums from the likes of George Soros and Saudi Arabia.
With the Clinton Foundation standing at the heart of the many scandals that dogged Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential campaign, it was no small wonder that donations to her family’s controversial charity began to dry up soon after her loss last November. Just weeks after the election, donations to the foundation from foreign governments plummeted, some as much as 87 percent, while donations from the corporate sector dropped by 37 percent.
While this was clearly devastating news for the Clintons – essentially signaling a drastic decline in their political clout – it has now become clear that the foundation of another former U.S. presidential candidate has gained the favor of many of the Clinton Foundation’s former donors. Republican Senator John McCain (R-AZ), current chairman of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, has seen donations to the McCain Institute surge, particularly donations from ostensibly “liberal” donors such as George Soros and other long-time Clinton backers.
The McCain Institute is meant to serve as the senator’s “legacy” upon his eventual retirement and claims to be “dedicated to advancing human rights, dignity, democracy, and freedom.” Like the Clinton Foundation, the McCain Institute is a tax-exempt, non-profit foundation with approximately $8.1 million in assets.
However, the McCain Institute’s donor list has raised eyebrows among conservative groups due to its uncanny similarity to that of the Clinton Foundation. Among its donors are the neoliberal billionaire and “activist” George Soros, Evelyn and Lynn de Rothschild, and the for-profit company Teneo. Teneo was co-founded by Doug Band, a longtime associate of the Clinton family and counselor to former President Bill Clinton, as well as an instrumental force in the creation of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI).
In addition to these individuals, many of the same foreign governments that were known to donate massive sums to the Clintons have also bestowed their favor on the McCain Institute. For instance, Saudi Arabia, a nation that funded 20 percent of Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential campaign, made a $1 million donation to the McCain Institute, a donation that the both foundation and the senator himself have refused to explain.
Foreign governments are forbidden from donating to U.S. politicians and often donate to non-profits in order to gain privileged access to America’s most powerful lawmakers, an arrangement often called “pay-to-play.” For instance, the Clinton Foundation received between $10 and $25 million from the Saudi monarchy, with between $1 and $5 million more originating from the group “Friends of Saudi Arabia,” which was co-founded by a “Saudi prince.”
The McCain Institute has also accepted more than $100,000 from the OCP Group, a Moroccan state-run phosphate fertilizer company that operates in territory that it has illegally occupied since 1975. Morocco has been criticized by human rights groups who argue that the Moroccan government consistently violates basic human rights and that its state-owned companies subject their workers to gruesome conditions while exploiting the disputed territory’s natural resources.
The King of Morocco, not so coincidentally, was himself a major donor to the Clinton Foundation. Hillary Clinton personally received a $12 million check from the king in return for holding a CGI regional meeting in the country.
Critics of the McCain Institute have repeatedly pointed out the conflict of interest for the Republican senator while also noting the institute’s similarities to the Clinton Foundation.“This is a very real conflict of interest,” Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, told the Daily Caller. “This is the similar type of pattern we received with the Clinton Foundation in which foreign governments and foreign interests were throwing a lot of money in the hopes of trying to buy influence.”
Concerns have also been voiced regarding the role of the institute’s donors and McCain’s personal leadership in the organization’s exclusive “Sedona Forum,” which critics say is remarkably similar to the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in that it hosts an annual gathering of special interests and powerful political figures, resulting in the alleged creation of pay-to-play schemes.
While McCain’s coherence may be fading, his political power in Washington still stands, meaning that the McCain Institute will likely continue to attract the attention and funds of powerful special interests and foreign governments.
Feature photo | U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., greets Saudi Arabia’s King, Salman bin Abdul Aziz in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Carolyn Kaster | AP