Former President Bill Clinton's foundation ended years of secrecy on Thursday by releasing the names of its more than 200,000 donors. The two top donors — both charities — gave more than $25 million each. The list could provide fodder for critics next month, when Sen. Hillary Clinton has her confirmation hearing to become secretary of state.
The sources of the Clinton Foundation money have been a mystery and an occasional controversy for 11 years, ever since the foundation began seeking contributions in the middle of Clinton's second term.
Since he left office, Clinton has used the money for seven initiatives, among them fighting HIV and AIDS and controlling greenhouse gases. The foundation built the Clinton Presidential Library and finances the high-profile Clinton Global Initiative.
The most recent data show that the foundation received at least $492 million in donations from its inception in 1997 through last year, according to The Associated Press.
The two top donors are the U.K.-based Children's Investment Fund Foundation and UNITAID, a multinational charity that promotes low-cost drugs for impoverished regions. Other donors include the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.
In a different vein, the list also includes such prominent liberal moneymen as Peter Lewis and Steven Bing — not to mention George Soros. Some corporations are on the board, including All-Tel, Entergy and Duke Energy, as well as foundations from Citibank and Bank of America.
The Clinton Foundation said nearly 90 percent of the contributions were $250 or less. But there's enough big money and enough big names to catch the attention of conservatives, journalists and bloggers.
One of those bloggers is Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation. He publishes the Washington Note.
"Everyone is going to be measuring Hillary Clinton's behavior and decisions and where she speaks based upon a look back at a list of Bill Clinton's buddies," he said.
By "buddies," Clemons means friends who wrote checks.
There's no law requiring a former president's nonprofit foundation to disclose its donors, and the Clintons had resisted any release of names.
The massive information dump came about because the Clintons and President-elect Obama's advisers all realized that without it, suspicions of conflicts of interest could sink Hillary Clinton's appointment.
So Clemons has some advice for the secretary-designate.
"The best thing I think Hillary Clinton should do with this donor list of her husband's is to know it, ignore it and even find a few people on the list to make sure she stiffs," he says.
Some possibilities for stiffing a donor might be found among Internet and media companies that made contributions, such as Google and the foundation of The News Corp., which is part of Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
Those corporations do business in China, where the government pressures them to censor news and dissenting voices.
Larry Cox, director of Amnesty International USA, says: "What we'll be looking at more than the list is, we'll be looking very carefully at what the new administration, including the new secretary of state, does on the Internet issues, which are very real and alive in China."
Thursday's disclosure won't get the Clinton Foundation many points for transparency.
The foundation presented the 205,000 names spread over 2,900 Web pages. It listed donors by category rather than by actual amount, and it gave no dates, so it's unclear whether someone gave 10 years ago or last month.
But those problems only slow down the exploration; they don't stop it. So for those who follow Clinton's diplomatic career, the list could end up as a standard reference.