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Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu September 6, 2016

Trump surrogate repeats wrong talking point on Clinton Foundation giving

Surrogates for Donald Trump continue to make the argument that the Clinton Foundation is a "slush fund" for Bill and Hillary Clinton, and they keep repeating an inaccurate talking point.

While discussing on Meet the Press why Trump has yet to release his tax returns, Republican strategist Alex Castellanos turned the tables, saying that the nonprofit bearing Clinton’s name doesn’t do much except enrich her family.

"Because that idea that somehow the Clinton Foundation is this wonderful thing that helps people, most charities give 75 percent of their money in direct aid. The Clinton Foundation gives less than 10 (percent). In 2013, they raised 140 million bucks, gave 9 million to people in direct aid," Castellanos said.

We’ve heard various versions of this claim (from former GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and RNC chairman Reince Priebus). It’s misleading.

Castellanos’ numbers don’t take into account the bulk of the foundation's work. The foundation does spend a lot of money on charity, not through grantmaking, but through its own programming. 

Tax returns show the Clinton Foundation raised just under $143 million and spent about $85 million, including $9 million in grants to other organizations. But that does not include all of the foundation's charitable work

"Grantmaking is not part of its mission, and that creates confusion — since many people imagine that foundations are engaged in giving away money," writes David Callahan, editor of Inside Philanthropy.

Despite its name, the Clinton Foundation is not actually a private foundation (like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the Donald J. Trump Foundation) that solely gives to philanthropic causes. Rather, it’s a public charity, like United Way or the Salvation Army, that runs its own in-house projects and hires staff to carry out the work.

Clinton Foundation programs include providing women in Peru with the tools and equipment to launch their own businesses, installing solar panels and grids in Haiti after the earthquake, helping farmers in Tanzania boost yields and turn a profit, and using market mechanisms to reduce the cost of HIV/AIDS medicine.

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All together, these programs cost $68 million in 2013 (page 10 of the foundation’s tax documents for that year), or about 80 percent of all of the foundation's expenses that year. In 2014, programs were 87 percent of the Clinton Foundation’s expenses, according to Charity Navigator, giving it a score of 10 out of 10 on that metric.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the foundation’s 2013 expenses:

In sum, Castellanos’ claim is "totally wrong," Callahan of Inside Philanthropy told PolitiFact. "The vast majority of the money raised goes to support program work in the field, as anyone can tell from looking at the Clinton Foundation’s annual finances."

Castellanos did not respond to requests for comment.

Our ruling

Castellanos said, "The Clinton Foundation gives less than 10 (percent in direct aid). In 2013, they raised 140 million bucks, gave $9 million to people in direct aid."

Castellanos is cherry-picking one line-item that doesn't include all of the foundation's spending on charity. While outside grantmaking made up about 10 percent of its expenses in 2013, the foundation spent about $68 million, or about 80 percent, on in-house charitable programs to help those in need.

We rate Castellanos’ claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

NBC, Meet the Press, Sept. 4, 2016

FactCheck.Org, "Where Does Clinton Foundation Money Go?," June 19, 2015

PolitiFact, "Reince Priebus' False claim that 80% of Clinton Foundation costs are overhead," Aug. 25, 2016

PolitiFact, "Rush Limbaugh says Clinton Foundation spends just 15 percent on charity, 85 percent on overhead," April 29, 2015

Inside Philanthropy, "What the Heck Does the Clinton Foundation Actually DO?" June 23, 2016

PolitiFact, "Clinton: Clinton Foundation helped 9 million with lower-cost AIDS drugs," June 15, 2016

PolitiFact, "In Tanzania, Clinton Foundation trades on maize and beans, not name," Sept 6, 2016

Clinton Foundation, Form 990, 2013

Charity Navigator, "The Clinton Foundation," accessed Sept. 6, 2016

Email interview with Josh Schwerin, spokesman for Hillary Clinton, Sept. 6, 2016

Email interview with Brian Cookstra, spokesman for the Clinton Foundation, Sept. 6, 2016

Email interview with David Callahan, editor of Inside Philanthropy, Sept. 6, 2016

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Trump surrogate repeats wrong talking point on Clinton Foundation giving

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