Soon after the 10th anniversary of the foundation bearing his name, Bill Clinton met with a small group of aides and two lawyers from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. Two weeks of interviews with Clinton Foundation executives and former employees had led the lawyers to some unsettling conclusions.
The review eerily echoed criticism of Clinton’s early years in the White House: For all of its successes, the Clinton Foundation had become a sprawling concern, inadequately supervised by a rotating board of old Clinton hands, vulnerable to distraction and threatened by conflicts of interest. It ran multimillion-dollar deficits for several years, despite vast amounts of money flowing in.
And concern was rising inside and outside the organization about Douglas J. Band, a one-time personal assistant to Clinton who had started a lucrative corporate consulting firm — which Clinton joined as a paid adviser — while overseeing the Clinton Global Initiative, the foundation’s glitzy annual gathering of chief executives, heads of state, and celebrities.
The review set off more than a year of internal debate, and spurred an evolution in the organization that included Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, taking on a dominant new role as the family grappled with the question of whether the foundation — and its globe-spanning efforts to combat AIDS, obesity and poverty — would survive its founder.
Now those efforts are taking on new urgency. In the coming weeks, the foundation, long Bill Clinton’s domain since its formation in 2001, will become the nerve center of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s increasingly busy public life.
This fall, Hillary Clinton and her staff will move into offices at the foundation’s new headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, occupying two floors of the Time-Life Building. Amid speculation about her 2016 plans, Hillary Clinton is adding major new initiatives on women, children, and jobs to what has been renamed the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
Worried that the foundation’s operating revenues depend too heavily on Bill Clinton’s nonstop fundraising, the three Clintons are embarking on a drive to raise an endowment of as much as $250 million, with events already scheduled in the Hamptons and London. And after years of relying on Bruce R. Lindsey, the former White House counsel whose friendship with Bill Clinton stretches back nearly five decades, to run the organization while living part-time in Arkansas, the family has hired a New York-based chief executive with a background in management consulting.
“We’re trying to institutionalize the foundation so that it will be here long after the lives of any of us,” Lindsey said. “That’s our challenge and that is what we are trying to address.”
But the changing of the guard has exacerbated long-simmering tensions within the former first family’s inner circle, as the foundation tries to juggle the political and philanthropic ambitions of a former president, a potential future president, and their increasingly visible daughter.
And efforts to insulate the foundation from potential conflicts have highlighted just how difficult it can be to disentangle the Clintons’ charity work from Bill Clinton’s moneymaking ventures and Hillary Clinton’s political future, according to interviews with more than two dozen former and current foundation employees, donors and advisers to the family. Nearly all of them declined to speak for attribution, citing their unwillingness to alienate the Clinton family.