I recently returned from my second trip to Haiti in two months where I visited with projects funded by the Clinton Foundation, including the Smallholder Farmers Alliance. One project was explicitly connected to Frank Giustra, whose name is at the heart of the latest volley in the Clinton Wars. The recent Clinton Cash book and associated news articles situate Frank Giustra's mining fortune as a key funder of the Clinton Foundation, through the Clinton Giustra Partnership designed to fight poverty, and infer Giustra's funding led to favorable U.S. government decisions. The news media has been bouncing attacks and responses back and forth for weeks, but what is very little discussed is how that money has helped the Clinton Foundation help Haiti's people. In the case I saw, it builds opportunities for smallholder farmers to reach the world market with their products, a hugely important contribution. With Election 2016 coming up, I want to make sure the political attacks don't overshadow the reality of actual work being done, or worse yet, undermine it moving forward.
As someone who has visited Haiti repeatedly since the 2010 earthquake, I can tell you the Clinton Cash coverage about funding that went to the Clinton Foundation -- not to campaign coffers or personal enrichment -- entirely misses the point. That funding is legitimately working to fight poverty, including through innovative programs in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation. Having filmed with the Smallholder Farmers Alliance since its inception, a project that was begun through a Clinton Global Initiative commitment made by Timberland to plant 5 million trees in five years, I have seen firsthand successful efforts to alleviate poverty by increasing crop yields and creating new forests in a country that is 98 percent deforested. During the making of this video for Timberland, I learned that Farmer Gustave Lorient has increased his crop yields nearly 50 percent thanks to agricultural services -- tools, training, seeds -- provided in exchange for his participation in a tree nursery cooperative that grows and distributes thousands of trees every year. His increased farming income has allowed him to enroll his children in secondary school for the first time, and the community he is part of near Gonaives has brought up seedlings to become flourishing trees on a once barren hillside. Watch Gustave's story here (a video I directed).
Yet when the news media reports about Clinton Foundation work in Haiti, it's mostly about what hasn't taken root, and almost never what's working. Where is the perspective in this mudslinging?
The Clintons have parlayed years of political experience at the highest level into fortunes for themselves based on speaking fees, book deals and the like -- and who would deny them that? What is exceptional is that they have gone far past personal enrichment to tirelessly raise money for ambitious and innovative Clinton Foundation work on some of world's most pressing problems: poverty, global health and climate change. Are all their projects successful? No, these kinds of efforts are inherently trial and error. But they are learning and adjusting thanks to Chelsea Clinton's focus on measurement, so that even underperforming programs generate data on efficacy that leads to improvements and future innovation. The flip side of reporting results and public tax returns that show, for example, your travel budget, is that it also provides fodder for sundry reporters who plant very few trees while trying to score points against the Clintons.
Yes, many see their futures in bashing the Clintons, rarely mentioning their efforts to improve lives, alleviate poverty, and improve health around the world. It might be better, don't you think, to write about the cash flowing to those candidates who are working to cut back on protections for the poor, the elderly, the unionized and to shift tax resources to those who manifestly don't need tax cuts.
So in simple terms: the Clintons raise money to support work that benefits millions of people, while others raise money to support the status quo and their funders.
There is a stark choice here and it's not whether Hillary or the Foundation fudged or did not report this or that. It's about whether we prefer people who ambitiously try to build a better world or those who callously tear down people obviously trying to do good. The Clinton Cash story is not about illegality, it's about innuendo and inconsequential circumstantial "evidence". There's no smoking gun.
In a chaotic world I agree there is a certain naïveté in trying to tackle global challenges, but if we don't try -- and support those that do -- all that is broken remains so. As Election 2016 revs up, the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy is alive and well: they have spent seven years undermining and pillorying our current president -- not trying to do anything but stall and destroy -- and they intend to drag Hillary back into the mud they were throwing 20 years ago when it was all about Whitewater.
Where there's smoke there's fire? No, where there's mud, there's a battle for the White House.