September 24, 2015; Politico

Although this story by Politico reporter Rachael Bade focuses on Huma Abedin, currently vice chair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and whether Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State signed off on Abedin’s working as her deputy chief of staff at State, an advisor of some sort to the Clinton Foundation, and an employee of Doug Band’s Teneo consulting firm all at the same time, there is a philanthropic angle beyond that which intrigues us. It involves Band having purportedly contacted Abedin in April of 2012 for her “help getting a [Teneo] client appointed to a post on the President’s Global Development Council,” according to Bade. Bade reports that Band made it clear that the Teneo client was Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, who had been a “big supporter of the Clinton Foundation.”

Rodin never got the appointment, though the circumstances of the White House decision are unclear. The Rockefeller Foundation gave Jenny DeHuff of the Philadelphia Daily News a “no comment” when she called last month to ask about the reported Teneo pitch for Rodin. However, DeHuff said that “Rodin’s people…maintain that the only top-level post Rodin ever took was when President Obama appointed her to serve as a member of the White House Council for Community Solutions in 2010—a nomination Rodin’s staff says was never solicited by Teneo Strategies.”

In 2010, Abedin wasn’t formally associated with Teneo, in any case. Bade’s reporting, however, took it as a given that Band and Teneo were soliciting the appointment for Rodin, but the White House didn’t give her the position.

However, Politico’s September reporting of the Teneo/Rockefeller/Rodin dynamic includes a statement from a foundation spokesperson acknowledging that Teneo had been informed of an application for the unpaid position submitted by the foundation on behalf of Rodin through following “standard procedures…through the White House’s official online portal.” Bade, however, included the text of an email that Band sent to Abedin at State, titled “She is expecting us to help her get appointed to this.” According to Bade, the email read, “Judy rodin. Huge foundation/cgi supporter and close pal of wjc[.] Teneo reps her as well[.] Can you help?” (Bade noted that “wjc” is shorthand for William Jefferson Clinton.)

In a little-noticed part of the Bade story, Bade notes that the Rockefeller Foundation paid Teneo $5.7 million in 2012 to do public relations work. That’s an impressive sum of outside PR spending for the foundation. Moreover, it raises the question of whether a foundation-paid PR firm is carrying out a philanthropically minded function when it solicits a presidential appointment for a foundation executive.

Teneo has done quite well by the Rockefeller Foundation, as shown in the foundation’s 990s. According to the Rockefeller Foundation’s Form 990PFs submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, the payments to Teneo as an independent contractor to the foundation dwarf the payments made to the next four highest paid vendors:

Calendar year Rockefeller Foundation Payment to Teneo Rockefeller Payments to Next 4 Top Independent Contractors Combined
2013 $7,441,569 $3,082,492
2012 $5,731,639 $4,538,300
2011 $3,447,150* $3,926,252**

*listed as a grant or contribution to a non-charity as opposed to a payment to an independent contractor or vendor; **payments to top five listed independent contractors, since the payment to Teneo was classified as a grant or contribution

The other top contractors paid by the Rockefeller Foundation were banks or investment firms. No other PR firm working with or for the Rockefeller Foundation comes anywhere close to the Teneo payments. Bade reports that Teneo no longer works with Rockefeller, though it isn’t clear whether the relationship was terminated in 2014 or in 2015, given that the Rockefeller Foundation’s 2014 990PF is not yet posted on GuideStar.

It probably doesn’t hurt if a foundation can shell out high seven-figure contracts to a PR firm that happens to be run by an aide to former President Clinton and a close associate to key staff of Hillary Clinton. And for much of the time that Teneo consulted for the Rockefeller Foundation, Band was also a paid senior employee of the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, the latter Band’s own brainchild.—Rick Cohen