Clinton cash — the GE-Algeria connection

Most of the stories alleging that donations to the Clinton Foundation resulted in, or at least coincided with, favors from Hillary Clinton’s State Department have involved foreign donors. The two most notable examples are Canadian businessman Frank Giustra and Ukrainian tycoon Victor Pinchuk.

Now, however, questions have been raised as to whether contributions to the Clinton Foundation by General Electric had anything to do with action taken by the State Department on GE’s behalf.

There appears to be no dispute that in 2012, the State Department lobbied the Algerian government in a successful effort to help GE obtain contracts to sell power plants to Algeria. Indeed, GE’s CEO, Jeff Immelt, seems to admit as much, calling it standard practice for the U.S. government to provide help to U.S. companies trying to sell products abroad.

To my knowledge, there is also no dispute that GE contributed to the Clinton Foundation around this time. The National Center for Public Policy Research, citing the Wall Street Journal, says that “GE donated between $500,000 and $1 million to a health partnership with the Clinton Foundation,” and that “Clinton’s subsequent actions helped GE obtain a contract with the Algerian government to supply turbines for six power plants to the tune of $1.9 billion.”

Immelt is correct that the U.S. government often helps U.S. companies sell products abroad. By contrast, it isn’t standard practice to ignore violations of sanctions designed to prevent nuclear proliferation. Thus, GE’s case is distinguishable from Pinchuk’s.

But if it’s part of the government’s job to help companies like GE sell goods and services abroad, then such companies should not have to “contribute” $500,000 to $1 million in exchange for that service.

To be fair, there does not seem to be any hard evidence of a quid pro quo relationship between GE’s contribution to the Clinton Foundation and the State Department’s help with Algeria. Nor is smoking gun evidence, if it ever existed, likely to appear now. As we know, Hillary has destroyed tens of thousands of emails as well as her server. And Immelt said today that GE will not release the emails GE exchanged with Hillary Clinton’s State Department during the period in which it was donating to the Clinton Foundation.

Nonetheless, several lines of inquiry remain open. One is whether Clinton’s State Department pressed hard for foreign business on behalf of major companies (if any) that sought assistance but did not make or promise large cash contributions to the Clinton Foundation. If the State Department didn’t, it would be easy to infer that the efforts on GE’s behalf were another instance of “pay to play.”

A second line of inquiry pertains to Algeria. What, if anything, did the Clinton Foundation receive from Algeria and what, if anything, did the Algerian government receive in exchange for awarding power plants to GE or for any cash contributions it made to the Clinton Foundation?

As to the first question, we know that in 2010, the Clinton Foundation accepted a $500,000 donation from Algeria. The money was used to assist with earthquake relief in Haiti, according to the Foundation. But, of course, Algeria could have contributed directly to Haitian relief without going through the Clinton Foundation.

This brings us to the second question — what did Algeria, having gone through the Clinton Foundation, receive from Hillary Clinton? According to the Washington Post, Algeria wanted better relations with the U.S. and relief from the State Department on human rights issues.

The Post adds:

[Algeria’s] contribution [to the Clinton Foundation] coincided with a spike in the North African country’s lobbying visits to the State Department.

That year [2010], Algeria spent $422,097 lobbying U.S. government officials on human rights issues and U.S.-Algerian relations, according to filings made under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Data tracked by the Sunlight Foundation shows that while the Algerian government’s overall spending on lobbying in the United States remained steady, there was an increase in 2010 in State Department meetings held with lobbyists representing the country — with 12 visits to department officials that year, including some visits with top political appointees. In the years before and after, only a handful of State Department visits were recorded by Algeria lobbyists.

Thus, it looks like Algeria’s contribution bought it access to the State Department in 2010. Whether actual U.S. policy towards Algeria changed at that point, or later on when Algeria did business with GE at the State Department’s urging, is a matter worth exploring.

What we do know is that the Clintons received money from both GE and Algeria; GE received lucrative contracts from Algeria; and Algeria got, at a minimum, increased access to the State Department, at least in 2010.

Even without emails, this story has real possibilities.