Bill Clinton with Petra Nemcova at the Happy Hearts Fund fundraising event on June 19, 2014. (Credit: Getty Images)
Czech fashion model Petra Nemcova survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami by clinging to a palm tree, while her husband was killed. Emotionally moved by the experience, she founded a charity dedicated to building schools for children in impoverished countries, called the Happy Hearts Fund. Beginning in 2011, she attempts multiple times to get former President Bill Clinton to attend one of her charity’s annual fundraising galas.
Trying again in July 2013, she invites Clinton to be the recipient of a lifetime achievement award at the next gala. She is so keen on having him attend that she is willing to schedule the date of the event to whenever he is available. However, Clinton declines the invitation, saying he is too busy.
According to Sue Veres Royal, who is executive director of Happy Hearts at the time, Nemcova then meets with officers at the Clinton Foundation, and afterwards, “[Nemcova] called me and said we have to include an honorarium for him — that they don’t look at these things unless money is offered, and it has to be $500,000.”
The invitation to Clinton is redone two months later, this time including an offer of $500,000 from Happy Hearts to the Clinton Foundation. Clinton accepts, and does accept the reward at the June19, 2014 gala in return for the money, which will be used on development projects in Haiti.
Veres Royal will later say, “The Clinton Foundation had rejected the Happy Hearts Fund invitation more than once, until there was a thinly veiled solicitation and then the offer of an honorarium.” She will be dismissed a few weeks after the gala due to conflict over the gala and other issues.
While the Happy Hearts Foundation was awarding Bill Clinton with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in Haiti, Haitian protesters were outside of the event chanting ““Clinton, where is the money for reconstruction?” (Credit: public domain)
The donation will not be publicly revealed until the New York Times reports on it in May 2015. The Times will comment that “the episode provides a window into the way the Clinton Foundation relies on the Clintons’ prestige to amass donors large and small, offering the prospect, as described in the foundation’s annual report, of lucrative global connections and participation in a worldwide mission to ‘unlock human potential’ through ‘the power of creative collaboration.’ … [I]t is extremely rare for honorees, or their foundations, to be paid from a gala’s proceeds, charity experts said — as it is for the proceeds to be diverted to a different cause.”
Doug White, head of the master’s program in fund-raising management at Columbia University, says, “This is primarily a small but telling example of the way the Clintons operate. [Nemcova] has responsibility; she paid a high price for a feel-good moment with Bill Clinton. But he was riding the back of this small charity for what? A half-million bucks? I find it — what would be the word? — distasteful.” (The New York Times, 5/29/2015)