Dec 1, 2021 - Economy & Business

Clinton Foundation donations plummet 75%

Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton are seen at a 2018 event in Chicago staged by the Clinton Global Initiative.
Chelsea, Hillary and Bill Clinton appear at the 2018 Clinton Global Initiative conference, staged by the Clinton Foundation. Photo: Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Donations to the Clinton Foundation plummeted to $16 million last year, down nearly 75% from the organization's peak when former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was running for president, records reviewed by Axios show.

Why it matters: The foundation was a financial juggernaut in the years after Bill Clinton served as president and while his wife led her own political career. In the time since, COVID-19 shuttered the sort of public events that had driven millions to the group — although Clinton loyalists expect increased donations this year.

  • While contributions have declined since Hillary Clinton's failed run in 2016, the foundation has built up a substantial endowment —which increased during the pandemic's equities boom.
  • That allowed it to cash out $15 million last year to help offset lost contributions.
  • The foundation's financial travails were felt across the nonprofit sector last year.

By the numbers: The foundation received about $16.3 million in contributions during 2020, according to a new annual tax filing.

  • That was down from $29.6 million in 2019, and the peak of $62.9 million in 2016.
  • Some large donors of prior years continued giving in 2020, including the government of Norway; the Walton family, founders of Walmart; and longtime Clinton supporters Haim and Cheryl Saban, according to disclosures on the foundation's website.
  • It also reported $11.6 million in capital gains on its substantial investment portfolio in 2020, an increase of more than $1.3 million over the year prior.
  • That was on top of the $15 million it drew down from its endowment, which grew by more than $30 million per year in 2020 and 2019, and ended last year with a value of more than $235 million.

What they're saying: Last year "was a difficult year for philanthropy," wrote foundation CEO Kevin Thurm in a letter accompanying its annual financials. "Across the sector, resources were stretched thinly and fundraising activities were impacted."

  • About three-quarters of U.S. nonprofits reported the pandemic negatively impacted their fundraising during 2020, according to tax and accounting firm BDO.
  • The Clinton Foundation's 2020 programs were nonetheless "fully funded," Thurm wrote, thanks to the distribution from its endowment.

Much of the foundation's work was focused on pandemic-related activity in 2020, according to descriptions of its programs in its tax filing and Thurm's summary of its 2020 programs.

  • Bill Clinton is headed to Little Rock, Arkansas, this week for the 20th anniversary of the Clinton Presidential Center, which operates under the auspices of the foundation, a spokesperson tells Axios.
  • He'll also "thank volunteers and staff who helped operate the feeding program during the pandemic," the spokesperson said, referring to a foundation program that, the group says, helped provide more than 700,000 meals to people in the Little Rock area last year.

Between the lines: The foundation has historically relied on large events to court contributions — events that had to either be canceled during most of 2020 or converted to a virtual format.

  • The Clinton Global Initiative Action Network squeezed in a gathering in Puerto Rico in February 2020, weeks before the pandemic hit.
  • The foundation's annual gala had to be held remotely.
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