NEW YORK — The Clinton Global Initiative has alerted dozens of employees that their jobs will be eliminated at year’s end, even as it plans to retain some staff to continue working with donors, according to two former Clinton Foundation officials who remain in communication with staff.
The winding down of CGI after this week’s glitzy gathering and the resulting layoffs stem from concessions made by the Clinton Foundation to controversies swirling around Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
But the recent moves to sunset the project have prompted controversies of their own around the Clinton Foundation, which administers CGI. And they presage the difficulties the Clintons can be expected to face if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency and they move forward with plans to scale back the rest of the foundation.
Some foundation allies grumbled that the announcement of CGI’s elimination — and of many of its positions — was handled in an insensitive manner, according to the former officials. Others predicted that retaining some staff to work with deep-pocketed government, corporate and nonprofit donors on existing programs would only feed criticism about whether some of the businessmen, companies or foreign governments that donated to the global charity got preferential treatment from Hillary.
It’s a “bad idea” to retain CGI staff, said one of the former officials, adding, “I really think they should make a clean break, and apparently so do most staff.”
CGI at its peak employed around 200 full-time staffers. Many of those have sought — or accepted — new jobs in recent months as the fate of the initiative became uncertain. It’s not clear how many remain employed, precisely how many jobs are being eliminated at the end of the year or how many would be retained in 2017.
A Clinton Foundation spokesman would not answer those questions, but he defended the foundation’s handling of CGI’s wind-down.
“All full-time CGI employees will have their jobs with benefits at least through the end of the calendar year,” said the spokesman.
The foundation is providing departing staff with “a wide range of resources that include career coaching, access to job leads in a variety of fields, and resume and job search strategy,” the spokesman said, explaining, “we informed CGI staff of this transition more than four months before the end of the year, and have provided information about CGI-related roles that will continue.”
Remaining staff will be working with government, corporate and individual partners that have pledged assistance for ongoing humanitarian projects around the world, the spokesman said. “Staff will be performing a number of roles, including continuing to provide advice with respect to commitment development and commitment improvement, based on our commitment database and experience having previously developed over 3,600 commitments with our members, and continuing to facilitate introductions and partnerships between members,” the spokesman said. He added that not all of those partners give directly to the Clinton Foundation.
The spokesman pointed to an open letter written by former President Bill Clinton in which he announced the sun-setting of CGI, while also crediting its partnership model for changing the face of modern philanthropy and corporate social responsibility.
“It’s been one of the great honors of my life to be part of this special community, and I hope the hard work and benefits of CGI’s great staff and its members’ creative cooperation will keep rippling out into the world,” Clinton wrote.
In his opening remarks on Monday, Bill Clinton said, “I think the way to end this is not on a nostalgia trip, but doing what we set up to do. Which is just keep working to push the ball forward.”
Since Clinton launched CGI in 2005, its members have made more than 3,600 commitments in areas including housing, education, workforce training sustainable energy and food systems, according to the foundation’s website. It says the commitments “have improved the lives of over 435 million people in more than 180 countries.”
This is the 12th and last CGI conference, regardless of whether Hillary Clinton or her Republican opponent Donald Trump win the presidency.
The foundation hasn’t provided details on how CGI’s programs might continue, though many of the commitments made by CGI partners are to multi-year projects, and it is unlikely that all would wrap up at the end of this year.
The foundation has provided more detail on other changes that the Clinton Foundation will enact if Hillary Clinton is elected. It will no longer accept new contributions from foreign or corporate donors and will formally change its name from the “Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation” to the
“Clinton Foundation,” while Bill Clinton will step down from its board. CGI originally was intended as a 10-year program of the foundation. But it continued for longer, partly because it attracted so much interest — and money — from the corporate and NGO worlds and partly because it became Bill Clinton’s favorite showcase, according to sources who worked with the foundation.
Its annual meeting is a see-and-be-seen event featuring a mix of swanky parties and high-minded discussions about finding solutions to global problems ranging from climate change to childhood obesity.
This week’s final gathering includes panels and parties featuring heads of state, Fortune 100 CEOs, Hollywood actor Ben Affleck and world-class athletes.
But it also has prompted teeth-gnashing among foundation staff and allies who are concerned that it’s an easy target for Trump supporters. Those concerns were exacerbated Monday when Bill Clinton conceded that some donors may have given money to the foundation to build a relationship with the Clintons or to gain access to the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.
Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller responded Tuesday, asking, “Doesn’t this validate claims of pay-for-play within the organization?”
Sponsors also seemed less eager to affiliate with CGI this year than in the past. The final meeting lists 23 sponsors, down from 33 last year and 46 at the annual meeting’s height, in 2011. Notable dropouts this year include Coca-Cola, which sponsored the event the last three years, and Barclays, a sponsor since 2010. Longtime sponsor Goldman Sachs also declined to participate this year.
Some staffers grumbled after being told that they couldn’t leave after the meeting and receive severance through the end of the year, so that they could hunt for jobs full-time, said the former foundation official. Instead, the former official said they are “being asked to stay until the end of December to update data into a database.”
Few staffers were informed about the move before it was announced in an August staff meeting by foundation CEO Donna Shalala and Bill Clinton, said the former official.
Since then, they’ve learned their fate on a piecemeal basis, according to two people with knowledge of the process.
“It was poorly managed, treated too glibly, patronizingly, completely lacking empathy at the fact that so many young people were going to be laid off,” said the former official.