The Clinton Foundation invited everyone from Pope Francis and Leonardo DiCaprio to Bill de Blasio and Janet Yellen to its showcase gathering starting Saturday in New York City, according to multiple sources familiar with the planning.
But those invitations were among the dozens turned down by all manner of celebrities, dignitaries and donors, according to the sources, who said the controversies swirling around the foundation and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign have made some bold-faced names and donors wary of the foundation.
The glitzy Clinton Global Initiative gathering in New York, which has the lofty title “The Future of Impact,” was supposed to have been a celebration of the accomplishments of the $2-billion Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation’s past work as it pivots towards a future with Chelsea Clinton at the helm.
Instead, it’s become emblematic of the foundation’s struggles to regain its luster, while scaling back some of its ambitions and restructuring amid heightened scrutiny of its internal workings, the diminished role of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the prospect that former president Bill Clinton also could be forced to step back.
“They’ve had a lot of rejections from people – both for membership renewals and speaking roles this year between the campaign, Hillary not being at CGI this year, bad press,” said one person who has worked on planning foundation events.
Foundation officials shrugged off questions about the rejections, explaining in an email “We’re extremely pleased with the response to our invitations. This year’s line-up is extremely strong.”
Arianna Huffington, a past CGI participant who was asked to participate in a panel, instead opted to travel to Aspen, Colo., for an exclusive “thought leaders” conference hosted by television host Charlie Rose. That wasn’t a value judgment on the Clinton Foundation, its work or long-term viability, said Huffington, whose media company has partnered with the foundation.
“I do plan to stay involved and very much hope recent controversies will not limit the foundation’s effectiveness and the incredible work it is doing,” she emailed Thursday, as she traveled to Aspen. “I hope it will continue to be as effective because it has a lot of work to do! And Chelsea can appeal to a whole new generation of millennial billionaires and heirs including in the Arab world.”
But a handful of corporate donors have dropped their sponsorships, and sources who have recruited participants for CGI say it’s become increasingly difficult to raise money from large companies for meetings in which executives would just as likely appear on panels with Chelsea Clinton, rather than one of her parents. This weekend’s draft program shows the former first daughter is featured about as many times as her father. Hillary Clinton had been tentatively slated to lead a panel on economic opportunity for women, documents show, but she has distanced herself from the foundation since launching her presidential campaign.
The documents, reviewed by POLITICO, also show that the foundation had hoped to land either Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen or French economist Thomas Piketty to deliver a presentation on income inequality. Both declined, as did Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Rock legend Elton John was invited to receive an award for his efforts to fight AIDS, but he’s not coming, and neither is New York City Mayor de Blasio. He had been invited as a guest rather than as a speaker and notably has refused to endorse Clinton, despite having managed her successful U.S. Senate campaign in 2000.
SOURCE: KENNETH P. VOGEL and NOAH WEILAND