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Hillary Clinton, former U.S. senator, secretary of state, and presidential spouse and likely presidential candidate, came to the University of Connecticut a few weeks ago and prattled about equality - for which the university's foundation paid her $251,000.
As the extraordinary speaking fee has come under criticism, the university's defense has been that Clinton wasn't paid with state tax money or even with the university's own, that the foundation used money donated for a speakers program by a family in New Haven with various business interests. This defense is pathetic:
• While the foundation is nominally separate from the university, it consists largely of university administrators and former students and the university pays it $8 million a year for fundraising. The foundation does nothing the administration doesn't want it to do.
• The foundation exists only to use the university's name and to support its mission. If the foundation does something that can be defended only by purporting to separate the foundation from the university and state taxpayers, it disparages the university as well.
• Somebody at UConn decided that paying Clinton $251,000 for one banal presentation was better than paying $50,000 each for five lecturers or $25,000 each for 10 or $5,000 each for 50. Since UConn President Susan Herbst spent much time on the stage in conversation with Clinton, it's a fair assumption that the decision ultimately was Herbst's and that her vanity figured in it.
• Exactly for whom was it better for UConn to use all that money for just one speaker? Was it better for UConn's students, to whom the event was limited, giving them a look at the likely Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, as if presidential candidates don't eventually hold many campaign events in public? Or was it better mainly for the university administration, Connecticut's Democratic state administration, and Fusco family business interests, all of which got to ingratiate themselves with someone who has a good chance of becoming president, just as investment houses like Goldman Sachs and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts have ingratiated themselves with Clinton, paying millions to her and her family's foundation as advance bribes?
After the Washington Post reported this month that she recently had taken extravagant speaking fees from eight universities, including UConn, Clinton told ABC News that she had donated all the money to her family's foundation, "so it goes from a foundation at a university to another foundation."
That is, the money went from a foundation Clinton did not control to a foundation whose disbursements she can control, a foundation she can staff with her friends and campaign associates, a foundation that can be used in part as political patronage.
Clinton's speaking fee at UConn is still more evidence that the UConn Foundation is largely a slush fund for university officials, the mechanism by which they get to do what they wouldn't dare do with official government money.
Before the foundation paid Clinton's extravagant fee, it was employing two presidents at once, the old one being paid nearly a half million dollars per year while the salary of the new one was kept secret; it was spending $600,000 to buy a mansion in Hartford for Herbst so she might continue to schmooze and overawe state officials when inviting them to the president's mansion on the Storrs campus a half hour away might seem too burdensome; and it was even paying for Governor Malloy's international travel.
The foundation should be deprived of its exemption from Connecticut's freedom-of-information law and its board should be separated from university officials and made more independent.
Or else the foundation should start offering Republican presidential candidates a quarter million dollars to speak. At least some of them might be politically incorrect and thus interesting or even outrageous rather than merely banal and corrupt.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.