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Do independent voters care about foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation?

Republican candidates are on the warpath against the Clinton Foundation, raising questions about whether Hillary and Bill Clinton sold influence to foreign entities in exchange for donations to their sprawling philanthropy.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told Politico the Clintons accepted "thinly-veiled bribes."

"Are you going to trust an individual who has taken that much money from a foreign source?" asked former Texas Gov. Rick Perry during a recent interview on CNN. "Where's your loyalty?"

"At the very least, these revelations present a clear conflict of interest," added Texas Sen. Ted Cruz last month in a statement. "I call on Hillary Clinton to return the donations from foreign governments. Until she does, how can the American people trust her with another position of power?"

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Journalists have followed the money trail as well, examining whether Hillary Clinton took any actions as secretary of state that benefited donors to the Clinton Foundation. That question was thrust back into the media spotlight last month by a new book called "Clinton Cash: The The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich." The author of that book, conservative Peter Schweizer, has admitted he found no "smoking gun" pointing to tangible wrongdoing by the Clintons, but he's argued their "pattern of behavior" suggests a quid pro quo.

The Clintons themselves have strongly denied any wrongdoing and accused Republicans and the media of hyping unsubstantiated claims about a foundation that does a lot of valuable charity work around the world. Bill Clinton has argued the scrutiny shows he and his wife are held to a different standard than many other public figures.

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If nothing else, though, the kerfuffle has presented a big political headache for Hillary Clinton as her 2016 presidential bid is taking flight. But with Clinton likely to seize the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, is there any indication the issue is resonating with the swing voters who will decide the election?

Thus far, it doesn't seem to be taking much of a toll. A CBS News/New York Times poll released last week found that both her favorability ratings and the percent of people who see her as a strong leader have jumped in the month since questions about the Clinton Foundation began mounting. Her favorability rating leapt from 26 to 35 percent, and the number of people who see her as a strong leader jumped from 57 to 65 percent.

It's still possible the issue could begin to erode her poll numbers, though - 55 percent of independent voters said they did not yet know enough about the foundation's fundraising to render an opinion on its integrity. If opinions among that bloc begin to harden, either for or against the Clintons, it could make an appreciable difference in the outcome of the 2016 election.

CBS News talked to twelve of those poll respondents - independent voters who have not decided how they plan to vote in 2016, and who have said they need to know more about the foundation before forming an opinion on the matter. During a follow-up conversation, these voters were asked whether they plan to investigate the issue further and whether any information they find will factor into their 2016 decision. The results, together forming a kind of virtual focus group, suggest the issue won't be too big a hurdle for Clinton come Election Day, barring a more scandalous revelation over the course of the campaign.

Most respondents seemed willing to give the Clintons the benefit of the doubt, disputing the idea that they would leverage their influence on behalf of foundation donors.

"I don't believe that a donation from a foreign country or dignitary will have that big of an effect on decision making for the country," said Jerome, a 63-year-old from California.

"If they were directly selling influence, you know, through the secretary of state's office, then yeah, that would probably be a deal breaker for me," said Michael, a 35-year-old Arizonan who works in the restaurant industry. That said, he added, there's a "lack" of a smoking gun. "A lot of it is based off of that book written by that author that has done nothing but trash the Clintons," he explained. "The snippets that I have read from his book, they're baseless. They basically connect a few dots that shouldn't be connected, you know. He uses a lot of, you know, just guessing, to connect two dots."

Several suggested the whole episode is much ado about nothing, arguing there are more important considerations facing voters than charitable donations to the Clinton Foundation.

"There are bigger issues on the table," said Alex, a 35-year-old writer from Texas who said she's not seen any evidence of wrongdoing, and that she's "satisfied" all of her questions about the issue have been answered

"I don't see it being that big of an issue," agreed Andrew, a 28-year-old physician from Oklahoma who suggested other candidates have their own controversies. "It's politics and all politics has, you know -- it's always something."

"Of course if it's some enormous scandal or fraud or something, I'm sure that would affect me more," Andrew added.

Ruth, an 84-year-old from New York, said the issue would "certainly" play a role in her vote, though she did not indicate which way she's leaning. "There are questions about the funding and how it was used," she explained. "I think all that enters...into a judgment as to what kind of a person this is, how they use their funds."

Some voters suggested Hillary Clinton would be able to distance herself from any questions of impropriety -- that she couldn't be expected to monitor all the foundation's activities, and that her husband deserves more scrutiny on the issue than she does.

"This is more affecting what former President Clinton has done, for his charity, causes, and things like that, rather than what Mrs. Clinton, and how she's been involved with it. Because I think she's been more involved in government, more than what her husband has, since he's left office," said John, a 63-year-old retired chauffeur from New York. "One person doesn't know everything. To hold one person accountable for what goes on like in a foundation, that's unrealistic."

Others nodded at a reservoir of trust and goodwill that the Clintons have earned during their long time in public life. Mary, a 52-year-old nurse from Massachusetts, initially told the pollsters that she did not have enough information to render a verdict, but that she's since heard all she needs to know.

"I just saw something last night on TV and it was regarding Bill Clinton making a statement, so he brought me up to speed," she said. "I thoroughly trust the Clinton family, and I believe that that foundation is on the up and up, I never had a hint of thinking Hillary, or Bill, or [the foundation] would be other than the up and up. I have a good feeling of the Clinton family, and I don't think they'd ruin their integrity,"

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Mary blamed the controversy on a "smear campaign" by Clinton's opponents and suggested it would "in no way" alter her opinion of Bill or Hillary. "I have a good feeling of the Clinton family, and I don't think they'd ruin their integrity."

Almost all of the voters said they were leaning toward supporting Clinton, though several allowed that subsequent developments could prompt them to reconsider.

"She's, in my mind, like the person I'd vote for given the other candidates, but, like I said, a lot can change between now and then," explained Andrew, the Oklahoma physician.

"Unless someone else come into it, she's probably my best bet," said John, the retired chauffeur from New York. "Just because of her experience."

"I'm leaning towards voting for her, I would like to have Hillary in there just from hearing what she says - her views on everything," said Justin, a 31-year old from West Virginia who works in real estate and property maintenance. "But I need to figure out what this scandal is all about, and that will be the deciding factor for me."

"I would ultimately vote for her over pretty much any candidate you can name coming from the Republican Party," said Michael from Arizona.

"I'm leaning towards Hillary Clinton," agreed Alex from Texas. "I haven't seen any other candidate that suits my needs as a voter, that represents me."

Even voters who said they're leaning against Clinton suggested the questions surrounding the foundation are not foremost in their mind.

"As long as the money is going for what it's supposed to go for, I don't have a problem with that - the charitable work," said Kim, a 46 year old from Arizona. "There's bigger issues on the table. I probably would not be voting for her."

Of course, at this early stage in the election, the electorate is relatively tuned out - political geeks are following the story intensely, but most voters aren't political geeks.

"I'm really busy," said Andrew from Oklahoma. "I can't keep track of every single thing between now and 2016. You know, like I said I'll look at it close to that time and...make a decision then."

"Truthfully, I've read a little about it, but I couldn't care less," said William, a 24-year-old from New York. The election is "too far in the future, really. There are so many things that can happen."

CBS News Producer Maggie Dore and Associate Producer Donald Judd contributed to this story.

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