Friday, September 2, 2016

Time to get rid of the General Services Administration (GSA) Past Presidents Pension plans.

Questions raised about Bill Clinton’s use of taxpayer funds after leaving office.

Clinton Foundation Donations  

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is brushing off a new report about Bill Clinton’s use of taxpayer funds since leaving the White House, but some experts say it could compound the Democratic nominee’s existing troubles.
Records obtained by Politico’s Kenneth Vogel break down how former President Clinton has spent about $16 million in taxpayer dollars that he has received since 2001 under the Former Presidents Act (FPA).
The law was passed in 1958 at a time when some former presidents struggled financially. Former presidents currently receive a pension equal to the salary of a cabinet member (more than $200,000 in 2015) from the General Services Administration (GSA) and about $96,000 for staff salaries.
They can also request funds for office space, furniture, equipment, travel, and other expenses. In total, the four living former presidents received about $3.2 million in 2015.
“It’s always been interesting to me that these former presidents who have this massive earning potential through speaking fees and consulting gigs and book deals are yet still provided with taxpayer money,” Vogel said in an interview Thursday.
A CNN analysis found Bill and Hillary Clinton collected $153 million in speaking fees alone between 2001 and May 2015. In 2015, tax returns show they earned $10.6 million from speeches and other sources.
“It seems to date from a bygone era when they might need this money,” Vogel said of the FPA provisions. “Now clearly they don’t. The Clintons are case in point.”
In an article posted Thursday, Vogel revealed Clinton has used his funds to pay staffers who are also on payroll at the Clinton Foundation or other Clinton-associated businesses and to provide federal government benefits to them.
Clinton has also sought GSA money to pay for IT equipment that was housed in the Clinton Foundation offices and used by both personal and foundation staff to process his correspondences and coordinate work.
Clinton Foundation officials assured Politico that staffers were never paid for foundation work with taxpayer funds. At least 13 foundation employees did receive GSA funds for personal work they did for Bill Clinton, and they were therefore eligible to receive federal benefits.
The story adds to questions swirling about how effectively the Clintons separated personal business, State Department business, and foundation business, but it suggests no violation of rules or laws.
Politico reported one employee who was at one point paid with GSA funds was Justin Cooper, an aide who helped set up the private email account Hillary Clinton used as secretary of state. According to the Clinton campaign, Cooper was not on the GSA payroll when he was working on the email system.

Two Clinton Foundation officials who earned six-figure salaries from the charity, Doug Band and Laura Graham, were receiving GSA funds at the same time, according to Politico. Emails have shown that the two were also in contact with the State Department, with Band requesting favors and meetings for foundation donors.
“A significant amount of this money was going to staffers who also worked for the Clinton Foundation or Clinton’s personal office or were doing work for Hillary Clinton helping her maintain this private email server,” Vogel said.

The Clinton campaign has blasted the story, though more over its newsworthiness than the facts it contains. Spokesman Brian Fallon called it “bad journalism,” because all other former presidents draw on these funds as well.
However, Vogel said Politico’s reporting “provided some specificity and clarity about what is otherwise an opaque operation.”
“There’s a lot of interest in the way that these different parts of the Clinton orbit, the Clinton operation worked together,” he said.
Although Bill Clinton has collected more FPA money in total than any other former president since 2001, George W. Bush has received more than Clinton in each full year that he has been eligible.
“His team’s spending per year through this Former Presidents Act is very comparable to that of Bill Clinton, though Bill Clinton does spend more on staff benefits most years,” Vogel said. Sources told him employees collecting benefits on the GSA payroll rarely received benefits from Clinton or the foundation.
In 2015, Clinton obtained $119,000 from the GSA for personnel benefits while Bush got $102,000, according to a Congressional Research Service report. In most other categories of spending, though, Bush was paid more.

A 2001 General Accounting Office report stated that most staff members of former presidents eligible for federal benefits also received compensation from the presidents or their foundations, so the arrangement does not appear to be unusual.
The FPA has sparked controversy in the past, most recently when President Obama sought an increase in funding to cover rising costs for the other presidents and his own pension.Conservative news sites screamed that Obama was demanding a higher pension for himself, a claim concluded was false.
Some lawmakers have unsuccessfully sought restrictions on funds paid to presidents who have other sources of income.
Government accountability advocates say Congress should revisit the issue now since it is clear modern presidents can be financially self-sufficient after leaving office.
“Although there certainly are legitimate expenses associated with former presidents, the process by which these funds are allocated needs to be updated to reflect the modern reality that former presidents can easily earn significant sums of money after their terms are complete,” said Curtis Kalin, a spokesman for Citizens Against Government Waste.
“Strict oversight, accountability, and transparency is needed to ensure the money is spent only for legitimate, post-presidency related activities,” Kalin said. “Congress should consider either a limit on total funds or an offset against earned income up to a certain limit in order to avoid padding a former president’s deep pockets.”
Clinton’s campaign compared Politico’s reporting to a controversial Associated Press story published last week. The AP looked at partial records of Clinton’s schedule as secretary of state and determined that more than half of non-government figures she met with were foundation donors. Their calculation did not include her 1700+ meetings with U.S. and foreign officials.
“Like AP story last wk, story by @kenvogel shows what happens when overtaken by pressure to find a lede in FOIA'd docs that dont contain news,” Fallon tweeted.
Vogel stands by his work, though. The headline was altered after complaints from the Clinton campaign, but the text has not been changed.
“Thankfully, we got the story right and they haven’t been able to poke any holes in the story itself,” he said.
While the campaign and its supporters question the significance of the report, others see it as just the latest example of the Clintons skirting the rules for their financial benefit.
“The Clintons are essentially in the business of gaming the system, and they do it across the board in virtually every enterprise they undertake,” said John Carroll, a former journalist and associate professor of mass communication at Boston University. “They are taking advantage of every financial opportunity that comes their way, no matter what perception it generates in the public.”
With existing concerns about the propriety of the dealings of the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s State Department, he sees an appearance of unseemliness to Bill Clinton’s use of FPA funds that does not exist with George W. Bush. And fairly or not, questions about the Clintons’ financial practices have resonated more with voters than scrutiny of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s businesses.

More facts on @politico story: since '10 benefits provided to GWB greater than those provided to @billclinton.

“What he does is accepted practice in the world he operates in, but the Clintons operate in a world of public service and non-profit activities that are really at odds with many of their financial dealings,” Carroll said.
Even if no laws are being broken—and Politico does not allege that they are—the potential perception problem remains for a candidate whose opponent constantly labels her “Crooked.”
“This story is going to add to the weight of public opinion that the Clintons are not trustworthy, that the Clintons are exploiting their positions, and that they mix and match their roles in a way that undermines any kind of credibility and authenticity they might otherwise have,” Carroll said.

The article has already generated outrage from conservatives, although in some cases based ona misreading of it. Vogel never alleged that the server Hillary Clinton used for email or its setup were paid for with taxpayer money. The article’s original headline arguably suggested that, but it has since been updated.

Even if one sees the Politico report as a perception problem rather than a substantive one, though, it can still be a distraction, said Democratic strategist Scott Ferson.
“Optics matter on both sides,” he said. “In an optic-rich election, the goal may be to minimize your own exposure while you hope that your opponent is maximizing theirs.”
The Clintons are not always effective at responding to such controversies, or at avoiding them in the first place.
“There’s two ways to react to an optics issue,” Ferson said. “One is to hunker down and sort of feed your paranoia about a vast right-wing conspiracy… The other is to just be super careful about every action you take, but that requires somebody standing up potentially to two presidents of the United States and telling them no, and that’s very hard to do.”
He does not see this article as inherently damaging, but it is one more negative story surrounding the Clintons’ finances and the Clinton Foundation at a time when the campaign would surely prefer to be focused on other issues.
“It’s just another day of drip, but as the days whittle down toward November, the drips get louder each day,” Ferson said.

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