William M. Tweed was a remarkable man. As the leader of Tammany Hall, the seat of New York City’s Democratic Party, he dominated the city and state Democratic Party in the 1860s. By controlling all Democratic Party nominations to city positions, his candidates were elected mayor of New York City, governor of New York, and speaker of the state assembly.

In 1868, Tweed became grand sachem of Tammany Hall and also was elected to the New York State Senate. In 1870, he and his cronies took control of the New York City treasury when the new city charter named them as the board of audits. They financially drained the city through faked leases, false vouchers, extravagantly padded bills, and other schemes. The Tweed Ring billed the city $11 million for a courthouse that cost $3 million and pocketed the difference. Tweed and his cohorts probably stole more than $100 million from the city. Historian Rembert Patrick estimated that the graft of the Tweed Ring equaled the stealing done in all the Southern states during the Reconstruction era.

Tweed maintained his power through careful organization and personalizing politics. His gang befriended the poor, especially immigrants, by supplying them with coal, food and other necessities and attending their weddings and funerals. Immigrants were ignorant and naive; businessmen and judges were not, and they were bribed. Tweed’s downfall came through the political cartoons of Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly which ultimately aroused public scorn. Tweed lamented that his supporters couldn’t read but they could understand those damn pictures. Tweed spent his last years in jail, dying in Ludlow Street jail in 1878.

One of Tweed’s associates was George W. Plunkitt. A prominent leader in Tammany Hall, he held numerous city, county and state offices and boasted of filling four public offices in one year and drawing salaries from three of them at the same time. Proud of his accomplishments, his slogan was: “He Seen His Opportunities, and He Took ‘Em.”

When the Clinton presidency ended, Hillary lamented that they were “flat broke.” Both Clintons were determined to remedy that situation and they have succeeded beyond their wildest hopes. Both received lucrative payments for speeches, and they spoke often. Bill took in nearly $18 million as the spokesman for Laureate University, an institution backed by George Soros. At first, Bill raised money for the Clinton Library, but in 2001 he established the Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code. Its stated mission was to “strengthen the capacity of people in the United States and throughout the world to meet the challenges of global interdependence.” Clinton associates Bruce Lindsey, Doug Band, Ira Magaziner, John Podesta and Laura Graham were key figures in the formation of the Clinton Foundation. By 2011, daughter Chelsea had taken a dominant role in the foundation, and in 2013 Hillary officially joined.

While Hillary served as secretary of state, donations to the Clinton Foundation soared, especially from the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates made huge donations. As secretary of state Hillary took in an estimated $22 million from speeches. Bill received $15 million from the ruler of Dubai. Two Mideast foundations and four billionaire Saudis gave Bill and Hillary $30 million.

As early as 2013, an alarmed New York Times warned that the foundation had become “a spiraling concern, supervised by a rotating board of old Clinton hands, vulnerable to distraction and threatened by conflicts of interests.” Critics charged that access to Secretary of State Clinton was facilitated by large donations to the Clinton Foundation. Of the 154 private interests who either officially met or had scheduled phone talks with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state, at least 85 were donors to the Clinton Foundation or one of its programs. In his 2015 book “Clinton Cash,” Peter Schweizer showed how during Hillary’s years in government the Clintons have conducted or facilitated “hundreds of large transactions ... with foreign governments, corporations and private financiers.” He called the sums going to the Clintons “staggering.”

When Hillary became the Democratic nominee for president, donations to the Clinton Foundation set new records. By 2016, the Clinton Foundation had raised $2 billion.

After studying the Clinton Foundation for more than a year, Charles Ortel, an outstanding financial analyst, concluded, “The Clinton Foundation appears to be a rogue charity that has neither been organized nor operated lawfully from its inception to date. ... It is a case study in international charity fraud of mammoth proportions.” Writing in 2016, distinguished columnist Charles Krauthammer reached a similar conclusion. “The foundation is a massive family enterprise disguised as a charity, an opaque and elaborate mechanism for sucking money from the rich and the tyrannous to be channeled to Clinton Inc. Its purpose is to maintain the Clintons’ lifestyle (offices, travel accommodations, etc.), secure profitable connections, produce favorable publicity and reliably employ a vast entourage of retainers, ready to serve today and at the coming Clinton Restoration.”

When Hillary lost the election in 2016, donations to the foundation dropped precipitously. Soon it was defunct.

The Clinton Foundation tax return for 2014 showed total revenue $177,804,612; total grants $5,160,385 (3%). Thus the foundation required 486 people who were paid $34.8 million, plus $91.3 million in fees and expenses, to give away $5.1 million. Clearly, the Clintons saw their opportunities and took them.

James Cook is a history Professor Emeritus with Georgia Highlands College.

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