NEW YORK — As Chinese authorities have clamped down on unrest in Tibet and jailed dissidents in advance of the 2008 Olympics, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has taken a strong public stance, calling for restraint in Tibet and urging President Bush to boycott the Olympics opening ceremonies in Beijing.
But her recent stern comments on China's internal crackdown collide with former President Bill Clinton's fundraising relationship with a Chinese Internet company accused of collaborating with the mainland government's censorship of the Web. Last month, the firm, Alibaba Inc., carried a government-issued "most wanted" posting on its Yahoo China homepage, urging viewers to provide information on Tibetan activists suspected of stirring recent riots.
Alibaba, which took over Yahoo's China operation in 2005 as part of a billion-dollar deal with the U.S.-based search engine, arranged for the former president to speak to a conference of Internet executives in Hangzhou in September 2005. Instead of taking his standard speaking fees, which have ranged from $100,000 to $400,000, Clinton accepted an unspecified private donation from Alibaba to his international charity, the William J. Clinton Foundation.
The former president's charity has raised more than $500 million over the last decade and has been lauded for its roles in disaster response, AIDS prevention and Third World medical and poverty relief. But his reliance on influential foreign donors and his foundation's refusal to release its list of donors have led to repeated questions about the sources and transparency of his fundraising -- even as Hillary Clinton has talked on the campaign trail about relying on him as a roving international ambassador if she is elected president.
Foreign contributions to American-based charities are allowed under U.S. law, but political and philanthropy ethics advocates worry that Bill Clinton's reliance on international businesses and foreign governments to finance his worldwide charity campaigns raise issues of potential conflicts of interest if he were to take an active role in his wife's administration.
"This is a perfect example of why it's critical for both Clintons to provide prompt and complete disclosure of all their sources of income, not just personal sources but also his foundation," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director for the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, a government reform advocacy group.
The Clinton foundation and the former president's library in Little Rock have received millions of dollars in donations from the Saudi royal family and the Middle East sheikdoms of the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar, along with the governments of Taiwan and Brunei.
Fueled by such cash, the foundation has grown into a worldwide philanthropic dynamo, using its financial clout and influence with business leaders to streamline solutions for logistical logjams that have long plagued charity operations. The foundation has pressed to lower the price of expensive AIDS medications and set up long-term projects across the Third World.
But like many charities, the Clinton foundation maintains a strict policy of keeping its donations confidential to protect the privacy of donors. Still, partial lists have emerged in the foundation's tax filings and in press accounts, leading to growing scrutiny of the activities of some contributors.
Some human rights activists suggest that the Clinton foundation's contribution from Alibaba undermines his wife's outspoken stance on China's internal crackdown.
"A former president of the United States received a donation from a Chinese firm that is involved in censorship, and now his wife is running for president. This is a shame of the U.S.," said Harry Wu, an exiled Chinese activist based in Washington.
Wu was imprisoned by Chinese authorities in 1995, then released shortly before then-First Lady Hillary Clinton spoke out during an official Beijing visit about the government's role in abuses against women and dissidents.
A candidate's position
In recent months, Hillary Clinton has repeatedly referred to her 1995 speech in Beijing as a foreign policy accomplishment that showed her crossing "the commander-in-chief threshold." Clinton upbraided China's government for infanticide and other human rights abuses in her address to the U.N.-sponsored Fourth World Conference on Women.
Just last week, Hillary Clinton pressed the Bush administration to boycott the opening of the Summer Olympics. "The violent clashes in Tibet and the failure of the Chinese government to use its full leverage with Sudan to stop the genocide in Darfur are opportunities for presidential leadership," she said. "These events underscore why I believe the Bush administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy toward China."