Bill Clinton, Tycoon

Bill Clinton’s been pretty good at making money since leaving the White House, earning $109 million with his wife in his post-presidential life, according to documents disclosed by Hillary Clinton’s campaign. But where is all this money coming from?

The specific figure that attracts attention is the $15.4 million that President Clinton earned from billionaire Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa Companies (link to PDF factsheet on Yucaipa here). As Forbes noted two years ago:

The mainstream business press beats up on [Burkle], essentially for buying access and influence among politicians and leaders of the pension funds that invest with him (FORBES included). ‘I basically became the poster child for the ills of political donations and business. It’s preposterous!’ Burkle protests.

In a case of journalistic understatement, a Bloomberg story notes that the eye-popping $15.4 million figure “may raise new questions about what services he performed for Los Angeles-based Yucaipa, whose investors include the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al- Maktoum.” The article then quotes Yale University tax law professor Michael Graetz, who served in various positions in the Treasury Department during President George H.W. Bush’s administration. The payment raises the question, “What are they being paid for, and if it’s the Sheikh of Dubai paying the husband of somebody who might be the next president of the United States, what do they think they’re paying for?”

A spokesman for Senator Clinton said that former President Clinton is a partner in a Yucaipa fund and “provides his best advice on potential investments, advocates generally on behalf of the funds, and seeks to create opportunities for investors to consider investing in the fund.”

So Bill Clinton is a financial advisor now?

It will be interesting to see if pressure mounts for Bill Clinton to explain exactly what he did for such a princely sum.

We may never know, however, if any of the revenue streams overlap with donations to the William J. Clinton Foundation (which runs Clinton’s presidential library and is involved in other projects) because Bill Clinton, despite considerable pressure, has refused to disclose the names of the foundation’s donors, saying donors expect their names to be held in confidence.

It should be noted that federal law does not require nonprofit charities to disclose the identities of their contributors, and that applies to presidential foundations. Donors, including corporations and foreign governments, may give unlimited amounts of money-even while a president is in office-to the presidential library foundation. Those donors may want something more than a discount at the Clinton Library gift shop, especially if Hillary Clinton becomes president.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to Clinton watchers that Bill’s desire to protect donor identities evaporated when golfing buddy and longtime Clinton donor Vin Gupta of infoUSA offered cold, hard cash for the names. Gupta’s data-mining company “made a list of more than 38,000 donors to the Clinton presidential library available for sale to foundations and other nonprofit groups from June 2006 to May 2007,” ABC News reported.

The Clintons’ newly released tax returns reveal that Bill Clinton earned $800,000 in 2006 and 2007 by serving as an advisor to infoUSA.

For someone with a limited background in business, Bill Clinton certainly is making a lot of money from giving business advice.

Historian Joan Hoff calls Clinton a “hustler,” arguing he’s “turned being an ex-president into a multimillion-dollar business.” Clinton has “earned an astounding amount of money – until recently, we haven’t thought about the ex-presidency as a business, but the Clintons have turned it into one.”

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