Beyond Soccer, Some Suspect Qatar's Investments Are Quid Pro Quo
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
The FIFA corruption scandal has refocused attention on how much influence money can buy on the world stage. The small but very wealthy Gulf nation of Qatar is facing accusations of buying the rights to the host 2022 World Cup. But regardless of whether those allegations are true, it is clear that Qatar is investing its money with influential entities in the West, and of course there are questions about the quid pro quo. For more, we're joined by Tom Hamburger. He reports on politics and money for The Washington Post. Welcome to our program.
TOM HAMBURGER: Thanks. Good to be with you.
WERTHEIMER: So it appears that Qatar has donated sizable amounts to the Clinton Foundation; several million dollars. You've reported extensively on foreign governments donating to that same foundation. What potential impacts might that have? How big a player are the Qataris?
HAMBURGER: Linda, the Qataris are substantial donors to the Clinton Foundation. They're not the largest. But they are a small, foreign country that has an outsized role in funding organizations like the Foundation and, in fact, have provided some speech income for Bill Clinton in the past as well.
WERTHEIMER: Now, maybe we should be clear that foreign countries and foreign individuals cannot give money to election campaigns in the United States. That's against the law.
WERTHEIMER: But do you think they see these donations as other routes to gain political influence?
HAMBURGER: Well, the Clinton Foundation raises particular questions because, of course, it is led in part by a former president and possibly a future president. And the question has been raised - is it an attempt to influence or gain favor with a future president of the United States?
WERTHEIMER: Qatar has also donated to a lot of think tanks, notably the Brookings Institution. What's that about? What are they trying to do there?
HAMBURGER: The Qataris, since 20111 through 2013, provided close to 22 million dollars in underwriting for the Brookings Institution. The Qataris also fund other academic institutions, many of which have opened campuses in Doha. So there's a Cornell Medical Center and Northwestern University and the most wanted names in U.S. academia as well as think tanks, as you pointed out, have a presence in Doha and provide credibility to a country that gets questioned, as we're seeing in the FIFA case, for foul play in both dealing with an international sports organization and for the wages it pays to laborers.
WERTHEIMER: Do you think that people in this country should conclude - could conclude this as a bad thing or is it just free money?
HAMBURGER: There are questions that are being raised by think tank boards of directors and university directors. What happens if a foreign government provides substantial funding to your operation? Does it undermine the perception of independence? Or does it, in fact, simply provide an important source of funding for academic research and academic pursuits with an agreement that says there will be no interference from the government in these academic pursuits?
WERTHEIMER: Now, Qatar is very wealthy, but are there others who are doing the same kind of thing?
HAMBURGER: Absolutely. Qatar is far from alone in donating to the Clinton Foundation and other foundations. For example, the United Arab Emirates, which is also very concerned with its image in the United States and around the world, is also a major donor to the Clinton Foundation. And I hasten to add that these countries are often donating to other presidential foundations. Both Bush Foundation - presidential foundations have received significant funds from the Saudis, from the UAE, from Kuwait. So this is not something that is unique to the Clinton Foundation. It's not unique to the academic order of the world.
WERTHEIMER: Tom Hamburger. He reports on politics and money for The Washington Post. Thank you very much.
HAMBURGER: Thanks. Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.