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The Clintons Take Over Global Disaster Relief

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First the good news: Bill and Hillary Clinton are intellectually and emotionally fully engaged in global humanitarian aid, often with perfect pitch. (I attended the Bill and Hill show on March 31st at the United Nations Donors Conference on Haiti -- and they ruled the United Nations on that day...even if most of what the world's governments pledged that day has yet to arrive in Haiti.)

The less happy news is the "Clinton effect" on the financial health of nonprofit relief agencies here and abroad who have to compete with them for a diminishing pool of available private funds. While the vast majority of larger international American "NGOs" are US Government aid contractors, other charities desire not to carry the burden of being an adjunct of US foreign and military policy and indeed fear for their staffs' own security when working in some of the world's most dangerous places -- more so when they are now contractually required by the State Department to ballyhoo to recipients that they are providing aid with US Government resources.

Hillary Clinton's new pitch for her Pakistan Relief Fund asks Americans to call, text, click-to and otherwise give to a State Department-administered fund. Once these funds are in US Government coffers they presumably will be combined with taxpayer funds and contracted out for relief to Pakistan's multitudes. Some of these funds may go directly to the Pakistan Government and the rest to US Government contractors -- nonprofits as well as for-profits. This is not the traditional role for the US Government and is, I think, a lamentable idea, however well-intentioned. It reminds me of when ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell famously said: "I love the NGOs; you are part of the combat team!".... Hillary taking ownership of Pakistan relief might wind up being less than she hopes it will be. Add government rules and regulations to the mix and private money flowing (slowly) through the US aid bureaucracy makes little sense.

With the Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and Haiti, it was Bill and, secondarily (it went through Clinton Foundation accounts), George Bush, pere et fils., who led a major own relief effort. Hundreds of millions of dollars went to (and, ever so slowly, through) those accounts and more often than not, the process of "politicking a grant" was burdensome [e.g., see how the United Negro College Fund got a grant from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund]. That said, Bill Clinton runs a private foundation not a government agency; if the public trusts him with their compassion, so be it.

On their worst day, the Clinton's various charitable endeavors far outshine the American Red Cross and its serial disaster fund raising activities. But the emerging Bill and Hillary brand has a global reach and is increasingly taken to represent American compassion in many parts of the world. Personally, I wish the Clintons would limit themselves to strong advocacy of relief and development activities, which they are great at doing.

I hope it is therefore a fair question to ask: "With the Clintons, why is it always about money, too?" Bill monetizes his birthday parties into mega-million dollar events, well watered by his rich friends, not to mention his Clinton Global Initiative, for which he charges $20,000 and up (not to actresses and politicians, of course, but to other nonprofits). Hillary seems to have forgotten President Jimmy Carter's very effective role in 1980 raising money for Cambodian genocide and famine victims by avocating donations directly to an independent nonprofit pool of funds shared by 30 charities. Carter convened a White House meeting of dozens of CEOs from our largest companies and pushed for their involvement to help save what was left of Cambodia. Hillary and Bill (and the Bushes and Jimmy Carter) should do likewise and redirect giving to the State Department's Pakistan Relief Fund either to Interaction, a nonprofit umbrella group with 45 relief agency members currently working on Pakistan relief, or directly to the agency of an individual's choice. The Clintons' visibility and clarion calls are always welcome.