The Unmanageable Conflict of Interest: Access is the Quid for the Quo

The Clinton Foundation is a fascinating study in conflicts of interest.  A conflict of interest is defined as a situation in which an individual is torn between two loyalties.  Let’s say an individual is secretary of state of, say, the United States, and also a founding member, board member, and grand poobah (First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chief Justice, Commander-in-Chief, Lord High Admiral, etc., etc.) of a foundation that accepts donations from countries, crown princes, and assorted poobahs, dictators, and shady despots.  Let’s say further that inexplicably preserved e-mails reflect that the staff members of office of  the secretary of state (who moonlighted, on occasion and sometimes for years, at said foundation) saw to it that the afore described conga line of the rich and powerful “got a meeting” with the secretary of state.  What conflict?, they respond!  Prove that they got something.  Actually, taking the meeting was the conflict.  There are only two way to manage a conflict of interest:  Don’t do it or disclose it.  The latter never would have happened if judicial proceedings had not forced the issue, and that disclosure came after the fact, not whilst the meetings were being set up and progressing.  A conflict such as this cannot be managed, so the only choice was don’t do it.  No compliance officer with a stitch of experience would have allowed the conflict to continue.  Indeed, the CEO (Obama) saw this issue prior to the secretary taking office and imposed restrictions.  Restrictions that went by the wayside.

If said secretary of state becomes president, the conflicts increase exponentially.  Refusing donations from foreign government is slippery language — individuals are not called out, thus leaving the door open for that conga line.  Resigning from the board will not do it either, particularly when one’s daughter remains on one of the boards of a subsidiary of a foundation of a foundation incorporated in Canada or somehow else wise tethered to avoid some disclosure law somewhere.  The conga line knows how the cabbage is cut, and as long as the name “Clinton” remains on the foundation, the quids and quod march forward in tandem.  The Boston Globe is correct.  The foundation has to shut down.  In fact, where was this bastion of integrity during the secretary of state’s tenure?  What’s sauce for the president is sauce for the secretary of state.  There is no political issue here. A conflict is a conflict is a conflict:  If you cannot manage it, something has to go.  It should have gone away about 8 years ago.


About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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