During a Boeing shareholder meeting on Monday,a conservative activist accused the aircraft company's CEO of buying then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's 'commercial advocacy' in Russia by making a $900,000 donation to the Clinton Foundation.
The money was earmarked for rebuilding schools in Haiti in the wake of a devastating 2010 earthquake.
But the contribution came just months after Mrs. Clinton traveled to Moscow where she made what she called a 'shameless pitch' to ask a newly formed state-owned airline 'to buy Boeing aircraft.' It's not clear whether there was a quid-pro-quo promise of the donation in exchange for Mrs. Clinton's cheerleading.
Clinton promised during the October 13, 2009 visit to Boeing Design Center Moscow that the U.S. Export-Import Bank 'would welcome an application for financing from Rosavia [the airline] to support its purchase of Boeing Aircraft, and I hope that on a future visit I'll see a lot of new Rosavia-Boeing planes when I land in Moscow.'
Boeing ultimately won a $3.7 billion Russian contract.
A month later, Clinton proudly announced that Boeing would donate $2 million toward the construction of the U.S. pavilion at the 2010 World's Fair in Beijing, China. The company had originally offered $1 million.
Subsequently, the Clinton Foundation got its own Boeing windfall.
The Washington Post reported Monday night that David Almasi with the right-leaning National Center for Public Policy Research challenged Boeing chairman and CEO W. James McNerney about the apparent 'conflict of interest,' and wondered aloud whether the company made itself vulnerable to prosecution for fraud.
'There is at least one lobbyist in jail right this minute for giving public employees travel and meals worth far, far less than $900,000,' Almasi said.
'He claims he didn't intend bribery; that what he did was "business as usual." But he's in jail now nonetheless. ... It seems reckless and unnecessary, even if it was not illegal.'
McNerney responded that he was 'confident' Mrs. Clinton 'would have advocated for Caterpillar's tractors or GE's turbines with equal fervor ... with or without these few donations,' and that he was 'highly confident that we followed the letter and the spirit of the law.'
'Commercial advocacy by people that lead our country is highly appreciated by those of us toiling in the vineyards,' he said.
Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
A political strategist in the state of Washington, where Boeing is headquartered, had harsh words for both sides of the political slap-fest.
'McNerney sounded defensive,' he said, 'but Almasi was obnoxious and it came off like one of those PETA stunts where they show up and ask Burger King to go vegetarian.'
'What was he expecting? Probably half of the Fortune 100 either makes these kinds of donations, or wishes they could figure out how to make it pay off.'
'That said,' the strategist, concluded, 'Boeing will get a black eye out of this, and so will Hillary Clinton. It seems like the longer she waits to decide whether or not to run, the more baggage there will be clustered around her feet.'
The National Center, which lodged the in-meeting object, defended its actions.
'Mr. McNerney's response is inadequate and should concern shareholders,' the group's chairwoman Amy Ridenour said in a statement. 'He ducked the kernel of our question, which is why Boeing would make a donation to the Clinton Foundation at a time of such a conflict of interest. Even if the company's intentions were pure, such a move can raise legal questions.'
She pointed out that the Boeing donation to Mrs. Clinton's family foundation came shortly after the Supreme Court decided the 'honest services fraud' case that kept former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling in prison – but reduced his sentence by 10 years.