- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2009

Former President Bill Clinton’s foundation, despite identifying more than 200,000 of its donors in recent weeks, will not say who paid it windfall prices for stock in a struggling Internet firm with links to the Chinese government.

The William J. Clinton Foundation has identified donors and promised unusual transparency in order to reassure critics who fear the foundation could become the object of largesse from foreign interests seeking to influence his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton, a former Democratic senator from New York, was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday as President Obama’s secretary of state and assumed her formal duties with a State Department ceremony Thursday.

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However, Mrs. Clinton’s office and the foundation have declined to answer questions about a lucrative 2006 stock transaction, details of which were reported by The Washington Times in March 2008.

The Accoona Corp. donated between $250,001 and $500,000 to Mr. Clinton’s charity after he spoke at the company’s launch in New York in 2004, according to donor information released by the foundation in December. The foundation sold its Accoona stock for $700,000 two years later, according to the charity’s tax return for 2006.

Despite what the tax return suggests, Accoona struggled mightily to turn a profit.

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In 2007, Accoona filed a prospectus with the Securities and Exchange Commission reporting more than $60 million in losses during three years. In the same prospectus, it listed the China Daily Information Corp., a subsidiary of China Daily, the official English-language newspaper of the Chinese government, as an official partner and 6.9 percent owner of the company.

Last year, the company’s management posted a note on the Accoona Web site saying it no longer would be active, citing “an overwhelmingly competitive search market.” Its Jersey City phone number has a busy signal. However, it was later announced that Accoona had been acquired by a Denmark-based business-to-business search engine.

While the Clinton Foundation voluntarily disclosed the original donation of the stock, it still is unwilling to say who was willing to pay so much for its holdings in the struggling company. Mrs. Clinton’s office referred questions about the Accoona stock deal to Mr. Clinton’s foundation, which declined to provide details.

“We have not disclosed that and have no plans to,” foundation spokesman Matt McKenna wrote in an e-mail.

When The Times reported on the Accoona deal last year, former foundation spokesman Ben Yarrow said Accoona had donated 200,000 shares of stock to Mr. Clinton’s charity after he gave the 2004 speech.

“The foundation sold its shares through a broker in 2006,” Mr. Yarrow said at the time. “President Clinton gave a speech. He did not endorse a product. As a matter of policy, President Clinton does not promote products.”

Charities are not required to disclose the identities of their donors or the buyers of any stock holdings, but some Republican senators have pressed for more disclosure about the former president’s fundraising activities.

With his wife’s new job, Mr. Clinton has agreed to apprise government ethics officials about his fundraising and increase transparency about the sources of his charity’s donations. The former president’s foundation, which financed the construction of his presidential library and various anti-poverty efforts, has received millions of dollars from overseas.

Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the influence of money in politics, said the foundation ought to consider the Accoona stock sale as a donation and disclose it if the deal was profitable.

“In a sense, whoever took the Accoona stock off the foundation’s hands was making a donation, because the purchaser gave real value to something that was previously valuable only on paper,” Mr. Ritsch said.

“That contribution, if you want to call it that, was all the greater if the company’s stock continued downward after the foundation sold it to this unnamed buyer.”

Because Accoona was not a publicly traded company, there is no way to determine a fair price for its shares before Mr. Clinton’s foundation sold its interest for $3.50 a share in 2006.

Before calling off plans to raise money on the stock market in 2007, Accoona stated in its prospectus that it issued 200,000 shares of common stock to an undisclosed recipient for “marketing services.”

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