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Hillary Doesn’t Like Unpaid Internships, but Clinton Foundation Sure Does

(Katie Zavadski)  The charity spent $30 million on salaries last year but not one cent on interns, unlike the Ford or Gates Foundations. What gives?
Hillary Clinton may be running for president as a champion for the middle class, but the Clinton Foundation’s interns do not get paid.

“Businesses have taken advantage of unpaid internships to an extent that it is blocking the opportunities for young people to move on into paid employment,” Clinton said at UCLA in 2013. “More businesses need to move their so-called interns to employees.”

That doesn’t happen at her own business, the Clinton Foundation that Bill started in 2001.

“The Clinton Foundation makes no promises or commitments of employment after the internship,” the Foundation says on its website. “No intern is entitled to a job at the conclusion of his/her internship experience.”

The foundation goes through about 100 interns each summer, with slightly less during the school year. Summer interns volunteer 30 to 40 hours a week, while interns who work during a college semester may work 25 hours. The most some interns receive is a $2,000 stipend for a four-month period, and that depends on financial need.

Paying them all New York’s minimum wage of $8.75, for instance, would cost a fraction of the foundation’s budget, which spent $29.9 million (PDF) on employee salaries, compensation, and benefits for about 2,000 employees worldwide in 2013.


“There is no section of the Labor Law that exempts ‘interns’ at not-for-profit organizations from the minimum wage requirements,” a New York Department of Labor handout clarifies (PDF). Unlike for-profit corporations, nonprofits in New York are allowed to employ unpaid volunteers. Unpaid volunteers can’t be required to work certain hours though (Foundation interns are), and they cannot be compensated in any way except for reimbursement for expenses (some Foundation interns get stipends).

Paying them all New York’s minimum wage of $8.75, for instance, would cost a fraction of the foundation’s budget.

Former interns say they don’t mind no dough, though.

Maggie Leahy interned in the Foundation’s communications department in summer 2010, a semester before she graduated from New York University. As an intern, she says she managed email correspondence, helped draft press releases, and the like. Babysitting on the weekends made ends meet, she said.“But I was excited about the internship, so I was happy to take it, even unpaid. It was such a powerful experience, and they gave us a lot of really valuable opportunities to contribute to the work they were doing.” Leahy now works at an education nonprofit.

Likewise, Talar Keskinyan scored a Clinton Foundation internship after her freshman year at Wellesley. Her internship had her collect data on the Clinton Foundation’s college partners and provided support to the students based on the data from those surveys.

“I felt like I had a lot of independence and was self-directing, especially for my age and being so early in my college career,” Keskinyan said. To afford the internship, she lived at home on Long Island. “My parents were paying for my commute.”

Though she didn’t stay at the foundation, she landed a post-graduation job at one of the startups she learned about during her internship.

“Their internship is probably one of the most well thought out internship programs I’ve ever done.”

The Clinton Foundation’s competitors do pay interns, though,

The Ford Foundation offers a paid summer internship program and its website boasts that alumni return to work part-time during the school year and that others have been offered full-time positions. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said interns receive a “competitive” monthly salary, subsidized housing and “additional benefits such as use of the foundation’s health clinic and ability to access matching charitable gifts program.”

Courts have historically used six criteria to determine the legality of unpaid internships The Clinton Foundation abides by at least two of them: a mutual understanding about the nature of the arrangement and the idea that an internship is not necessarily a precursor to a job. Furthermore, courts say the intern experience must be of benefit to the intern, something all Clinton Foundation interns who spoke to The Daily Beast said it was.

What’s not clear, though, is that the foundation derives no immediate advantage from intern activities. After all, someone has to answer emails, send press releases, and collect data on foundation partners.

The Clinton Foundation did not respond to repeated requests for comment.