When Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2008, Bill Clinton's affiliation with billionaire Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Companies could become the new Bill & Hill scandal - the equivalent of Whitewater.
It's not that the various Yucaipa funds which invest money for foreign and domestic investors have done anything wrong; they haven't. But the company's investments have the potential to create conflicts of interest for the Clintons.
Like any U.S. senator, Hillary regularly casts votes that help or harm various interests including, inevitably, the interests of the multibillion-dollar Yucaipa funds.
The issue looms larger in the wake of a story in last Sunday's New York Times, which quotes Burkle as estimating that he spends about 500 hours a year with the ex-president. That works out to about 10 hours a week the closest thing Bill now has to a regular job.
The Times also reports that Bill stands to clear tens of millions of dollars with virtually no risk from his Yucaipa work. Yet Hillary's Senate financial disclosures for 2003 and 2004 list as Bill's only Yucaipa income "more than $1,000" in "guaranteed payments" as a partner in Yucaipa Global Opportunities Fund 1, LLC.
How does that work? Most of Bill's gains are backloaded he'll clear those millions if the funds average returns above 9 percent over their lifetime. And Yucaipa says they're doing even better than that now.
But, until the funds are liquidated, there's no income for Hillary to report even though the riches are destined for her pocket, too.
If Hillary's a presidential candidate, such conflicts of interest are even more relevant.
Yet we have no real idea how much of a conflict all this truly poses. Only the Clintons know because they won't release their tax returns and will give only the most vague descriptions of Bill's work with Yucaipa.
The Clintons should tell the voters exactly what Yucaipa investments Bill works on, and exactly what his compensation is.
Imagine if, back when George W. Bush was seeking the presidency, Laura Bush were lining up vast profits as an adviser to multibillion-dollar private investment brokers, who stood to benefit from specific federal actions. If she wouldn't disclose more, there'd be hell to pay. The same rule must apply to a couple where the husband's investing while the wife runs for office.
As things stand, Hillary's next disclosure form, due May 1, will report merely that Bill received in excess of $1,000 from Yucaipa hardly the level of specificity to which her constituents (and future voters nationwide) are entitled.
The case for disclosure rises even further as Burkle pursues a deal to buy a number of American daily newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, the largest paper in the swing state of Pennsylvania. Will Bill's partner own a string of newspapers at the same time that Hillary is running for president?
Then there's the Dubai factor.
When Bill joined Yucaipa, the announcement said only that the former president would be working on two other funds Yucaipa's American Fund and its Corporate Initiative Fund. But the Times reports, "Clinton is also a partner in a Yucaipa fund that invests in overseas ventures, for which he receives regular payments and would draw one-third of the profits when the fund is dissolved at least five years from now."
And Yucaipa last year joined with the Dubai Investment Group to create a new U.S. company: DIGL Inc., which invests the private funds of Dubai's crown prince, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoun, the fifth-richest man in the world according to Forbes. Even if Bill's not directly working with that Yucaipa account, he and Hillary can expect to make millions via a company that works with the sheik.
(Of course, Dubai's known past generosity to Bill and institutions he controls, such as his presidential library, totals a very solid six figures. During the recent ports-deal flap, that relationship had former President Clinton advising and publicly defending Dubai even as Sen. Clinton was denouncing it.)
Is Bill Clinton getting regular payments from a fund that invests the prince's money? Again, the Clintons should tell us.
If a foreign head of state is even indirectly paying the spouse of a U.S. senator and presidential candidate, the need for disclosure becomes obvious. (The same principle also holds for Bill's other hat an ex-president posing as a disinterested commentator on America's Middle East relationships.)
Learn these facts well. The tycoon, the ex-president and the sheik are likely to be recurring topics as a Hillary presidential candidacy looms.
Eileen McGann co-authored this column.