Democrats say Hillary Clinton needs to do much more to distance herself from the Clinton Foundation.
Several Democratic lawmakers say the Clintons should cut their ties to the foundation to prevent any perception that donors could buy access through donations to the charitable organization.
“There should be a complete break between Bill and Hillary and this foundation and its activities,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), the second-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, told an online Illinois news channel earlier this month.
“I know for a fact this foundation has done good things around the world, but there needs to be a clear break so there's no questions asked about future activities,” Durbin said.
Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, recently told Fox News Sunday, “They clearly need to change the way they do business.”
Foreign governments gave millions of dollars to the foundation while Clinton, now the Democratic nominee for president, was serving as secretary of State.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and others in his party have seized on the donations as evidence of a pay-to-play system in which foreign governments and corporations were buying access through their donations.
The Clintons have pushed back aggressively at the attacks, emphasizing the foundation’s good works and criticizing opponents as wanting to shut down its charitable activities.
They have also taken steps aimed at defusing the controversy, such as promising that the foundation will not accept corporate or foreign donations if Clinton is elected president.
Bill Clinton has said the foundation will accept contributions only from U.S. citizens, permanent residents and U.S.-based foundations and make the names of donors public on a quarterly basis.
It will also change the official name from the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation to the Clinton Foundation.
And, more significantly, Bill Clinton will step down from the board and stop raising funds for it, the ex-president said.
Yet a number of Democrats say such steps do not go far enough.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), a prominent liberal and one of the few members of Congress to back Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) over Clinton in the Democratic primary, said Clinton and her family should cut all ties to the foundation — and do it immediately.
“The Clinton family should cut their ties. I know it's difficult, but we have a pivotal election [to win],” Grijalva said Wednesday by phone. "It's not about guilt. Cutting ties means we have more important things on the table.”
Grijalva emphasized that he wants the foundation to remain up and running, citing its work helping women in Haiti and lowering the cost of AIDS drugs in Africa as just two examples. But that work can continue, he argued, without the Clintons directly involved.
“The separation will not hurt their good work,” he said. “Sever the ties, do it before November and let's move on.”
D.B. Mitchell, a spokesperson for Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D), who is running to unseat five-term incumbent Sen. John McCain (R) in Arizona, said if Clinton becomes president, “all family members should detach from the organization to avoid any appearance of conflicts of interest.”
Some Democrats haven’t gone so far with their demands.
Rep. Jim Himes (Conn.) warned last week that the Clinton's need to adopt “a purer than Caesar’s wife approach” to the foundation to eliminate any pay-to-play accusations, but he did not say they should cut all family ties to it.
Rep. André Carson (Ind.) said that while there's been “no smoking gun” linking foundation donations to State Department favors, the perception alone is damaging enough to demand tough firewalls.
But he focused on safeguards that could be put in place.
“There's always a slippery slope of sorts when you have donors who give and then after they give, they make requests from bureaucrats or politicians," Carson told CNN. "You never want to have the appearance of impropriety or pay-to-play, but when you're dealing with human beings, things happen and we get into this kind of messy area."
Some Democrats such as former Sen. Russ Feingold, who is running for his old seat in Wisconsin, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell say the Clinton’s should shut down the foundation altogether if elected.
“They ought to be as open as possible about what this has done — the Clinton Foundation — and whether there are any concerns going forward,” Feingold told reporters Monday. “It may be a good idea not to have it when she becomes, if she becomes, president.”
Rendell told The New York Daily News earlier this month, “I definitely think if she wins the presidency they have to disband it.”
But Kirkpatrick believes that closing it would be going too far because “the Clinton Foundation does extraordinary work across the globe.”
Instead, it “should stop accepting contributions from foreign governments and entities,” Kirkpatrick’s campaign aide said.
Sanders leveled pointed criticism at the foundation during the Democratic primary, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper, the host of CNN's “State of the Union,” in June that the Clinton Foundation’s fundraising activities posed a conflict of interest.
“Do I have a problem when a sitting secretary of State and a foundation run by her husband collects many, many dollars from foreign governments — governments which are dictatorships?"
“Yeah, I do have a problem with that. Yeah, I do,” Sanders said.
Some Democrats, such as Rep. Patrick Murphy (Fla.), who won his Senate primary race Tuesday with Clinton’s help, are rallying to her defense, dismissing the criticism as unfounded.
“The Clinton Foundation has worked to help people at home and abroad and Patrick supports the reforms the Foundation outlined. These attacks are a clear attempt by Republicans to distract from what a disaster 'con man' Donald Trump's presidency would be,” said Murphy’s spokesperson, Galia Slayen.