August 4, 2015; Wall Street Journal

Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal featured an editorial about Bill and Hillary Clinton’s tax returns, released to the public on July 31st. One of the problems when a donor (or donor couple, in this case) has multiple charities bearing the family name is confusion over which charity does what. The WSJ editorial board made this mistake when it conflated the Clinton Family Foundation with the Clinton Foundation.

The Clinton Foundation (officially the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation) is the well-publicized international public charity that has attracted corporate, government, and individual donors from around the world. NPQ has reported on various aspects of the Clinton Foundation, including a recent piece by Rick Cohen. The Clinton Family Foundation, however, is very different.

The Clinton Family Foundation, headquartered in Chappaqua, New York, is the private foundation that received all but $200,000 of the almost $14 million the Clintons gave to charity from 2007 to 2013. The Clinton Family Foundation’s Form 990-PF (private foundation) filings show that the foundation has only one donor—Bill and Hillary Clinton—and gives much of its money to local and national charities other than the Clinton Foundation, based in New York City and Little Rock, Arkansas. Like many family foundations, the Clinton Family Foundation appears to act as a clearinghouse for the family’s personal philanthropy.

A cursory Internet search and review of the online IRS forms show several distinguishing differences between the Clinton Family Foundation and the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation: asset size, public charity vs. private foundation status, donor list and distribution list, etc. To those who don’t spend much time visiting or to research charities and who don’t routinely work in the nonprofit sector, it’s understandable that the two foundations could be confused. However, a national publication expressing its official opinion about a presidential candidate’s charitable activities should be expected to perform some due diligence. The errors in the WSJ editorial are indicative of how much misunderstanding there is in the media as well as the general public about how the nonprofit sector works from a tax and regulatory perspective. The editorial also demonstrates the potential for damage such ignorance may cause for the sector as well as for well-known donors.—Michael Wyland