The Fragrance Foundation, a trade group for the perfume industry, paid former President Bill Clinton $260,000 to give a speech in January 2014 that lasted less than an hour.
In the months after the talk, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation organized and partially funded an effort to get hundreds of farmers in Haiti to plant thousands of lime trees, a project designed to help both the impoverished farmers and the perfume and beverage industries, which had been hurt by a spike in lime prices caused by drought and crop blight.
The Clinton Foundation’s partner on the project was one of the world’s largest fragrance and flavoring suppliers, Firmenich International SA, along with the Swiss company’s U.S. charity. The Firmenich Charitable Foundation put up about $250,000 for the Haiti lime-tree project. Some of it went to a unit of the Clinton Foundation in Haiti and some to a charity recruited for the project that works with the Clinton Foundation in Haiti, records and interviews show.
Mr. Clinton’s $260,000 speaking fee wasn’t a donation to the foundation but was reported as personal income—an honorarium—on the candidate financial-disclosure form of his wife, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. The speech was one of 104 paid speeches that earned Bill and Hillary Clinton about $25 million in the 16 months before she launched her presidential campaign.
The timing of Bill Clinton’s speech income, from a perfume trade group in which a large member would later benefit from a Clinton Foundation project in Haiti, represents the kind of overlapping of private and charitable interests that has become a political liability for his wife as she runs for office. The Clinton Foundation has previously drawn attention for accepting donations from companies and foreign governments with business before the State Department when it was led by Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Clinton, for his part, has given so many speeches to companies and groups in recent years, and the Clinton Foundation has collected donations from so many corporations and organizations, that this kind of overlap seems almost inevitable.
A spokesman for Mr. Clinton said his speech to the perfume industry “is in no way connected to the Clinton Foundation’s work in Haiti.” A spokesman for the Clinton Foundation also said there was no connection. The foundation said the lime-tree project is part of a major effort to reverse deforestation in Haiti and boost the economy.
Jerry Vittoria, president of Firmenich’s North America fragrance unit and the current chairman of the Fragrance Foundation, said hiring Mr. Clinton wasn’t his idea and the speaking fee had nothing to do with the tree project.
Elizabeth Musmanno, executive director of the Fragrance Foundation, said she proposed inviting Mr. Clinton because he is one of “the best public speakers in the world.” She said it “had nothing to do with the Clinton Global Initiative,” referring to the foundation’s annual gathering that matches philanthropists with charities.
Mr. Clinton’s fee of $260,000 was roughly in line with the average he collected for each of 38 speeches he delivered in 2014, according to a Journal analysis of disclosure records.
“President Clinton has not given a paid speech since November 2015, and he will not do any if Secretary Clinton is elected,” said his spokesman, Angel Urena.
The Clinton Global Initiative, where the lime-tree project was featured in 2015, is meeting for the last time this week. Mr. Clinton has said that, if Mrs. Clinton is elected, he would stop fundraising and the foundation wouldn’t accept donations from foreign governments or companies. The foundation is spinning off some of its activities, but hasn’t ruled out Chelsea Clinton raising money from wealthy individuals.
Mr. Clinton’s fragrance speech was the first of a series of gatherings that Ms. Musmanno said she wanted to be like TED talks for perfume industry. An account of the speech by the trade publication GCI Magazine said Mr. Clinton “talked about instability, inequality, climate change and the contributions of the fragrance industry to Haiti’s economy, including recognizing Firmenich’s sustainable vetiver oil program there.”
Mr. Clinton was referring to Firmenich’s separate project to help farmers of vetiver, a tropical grass with roots that produce an earthy and aromatic oil highly valued in the fragrance industry, particularly for use in cologne for men. The Clinton Foundation provided no financing for that effort.
In an answer to a question after the speech, Mr. Clinton said he didn’t wear cologne, prompting audible gasps in the room, according to Women’s Wear Daily.
The lime-tree project came about after a global lime shortage had left limeoil, a key ingredient sold to perfume and soft-drink makers, costing more than $50,000 a metric ton, roughly double what the price had been for decades. Drought and a blight had swept groves in Mexico, one of the world’s largest producers.
Firmenich wanted an additional source for limes, according to a case study written by business students at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. Firmenich cooperated with that study.
The company looked to Haiti, which decades ago had been a leading producer of Key limes. By working with charities linked to small farmers in Haiti, “the company has been trying to find a way to gain exclusive access to new lime production sources,” the paper said.
To plant new groves in Haiti, Firmenich needed an organization that could help distribute seedlings and provide technical support to farmers. After Mr. Clinton’s speech,David Shipman, president of Firmenich’s U.S. unit and vice president of its charitable arm, approached the Clinton Foundation, one of the most active nonprofit organizations in Haiti, for support. “We explained to them what we thought could be the future of limes on the island,” he said.
He said the Clinton Foundation identified charities that could help teach farmers about growing lime trees. “We thought it was serving two purposes,” he said, increasing income for Haitian farmers while easing a global lime shortage.
Hugh Locke of Smallholder Farmers Alliance, a charity that helps farmers in Haiti, said the Clinton Foundation asked him to come to a meeting with Firmenich. The Clinton Foundation said it would contribute$250,000to the project ifthe Firmenich foundation donated at least $110,000, and suggested the money go to Mr. Locke’s group and to Acceso Peanut Enterprise Corp., a company established and owned by the Clinton Foundation, according to Mr. Shipman.
The Firmenich foundation paid $174,880 to Acceso between October 2014 and September 2015, and $199,083 to Mr. Locke’s group between October 2014 and June 2015, Mr. Shipman said.
Mr. Locke said Firmenich’s donation helped create a specialized nursery that has grown 15,000 lime trees. Firmenich estimates that as many as 200,000 lime seedlings were planted. It takes three to five years for lime trees to mature and produce fruit. By all accounts, the project has benefited Haitian farmers.
Meanwhile, the lime squeeze has eased. Mexican farmers have planted more trees.
—Rebecca Ballhaus contributed to this article.
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