News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

9 Former Public Servants, Including Hillary Clinton, Cashing in for Big Bucks on the Speaker Circuit

There's a fortune to be made, but are there any political consequences to speechifying to the highest bidder?

The swamp of monied interests that can influence politicians and public servants is thick with campaign funders and armies of lobbyists. But there’s a way to reach office holders that’s even easier to pull off, a snap to conceal, and carries few consequences: It’s called “buckraking,” otherwise known as taking giant fees for speaking once you’ve left office.

There is a long-held tradition that public officials who accept ginormous fees for speaking engagements from industries connected to their work are both unethical and unseemly, and rules prohibit sitting lawmakers from cashing in. But hey, if you’ve left office, what the biggie? It's difficult to determine exactly how the prospect of future payments may sway legislative outcomes for politicians, but it certainly makes you wonder. If you think that down the road you can get a big payout from, say, financial firms for looking kindly upon them in office, well, maybe that's just what you'll do.

In our current redux of the Gilded Age, any delicate concerns about impropriety are certainly not stopping politicial heavies. The A-list can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech, and many of them are cleverly setting up complicated, deliberately opaque corporate structures that enable them to hide how much money they’re taking in. Even lesser entities, like former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, can expect handsome payments. Gibbs has reportedly made a cool $2 million for talks since leaving his position in 2011.

The people on the following list are so hypnotized by Mammon that any sense of discretion, proportion, or protecting their legacy and reputation has been tossed out the window. Is their buckraking a form of legal bribery? You decide.

1. Bill Clinton: The former president is considered the grand champion of buckrakers, earning esteem among fellow speechifyers for his cleverness, deft maneuvering, and ability to haul in breathtaking sums. Rivals can only salivate when they hear that Bubbah, as Leslie Larson reported in the New York Daily News, recently got paid $500,000 in advance for a 45-minute speaking gig at the 90th birthday soiree for Israeli President Shimon Peres. That’s $11,000 per minute, Larson observed.

And even that windfall didn’t match the $750,000 payout he got from speaking to the Swedish-based telecom giant Ericsson in Hong Kong. Or the $700,000 he received from a newspaper publishing company in Lagos, Nigeria. As president, Clinton allowed Wall Street to run roughshod over the American public, and so it’s no surprise that business forums, big banks, and financial institutions clamor to return the favor by hiring him for lucrative speaking jobs, including Goldman Sachs, Lehman Bros, Citigroup, and Deutsche Bank. Clinton has raked in an estimated $89 million in speaking fees since he left public office. We only know this because his wife's position as a high-ranking federal official required him to disclose the dough.

2. Hillary Clinton: Taking a page from her husband’s playbook, the former Secretary of State has leapt onto the speaker circuit gravy train with such enthusiasm that the New York Times and the Washington Post just ran feature stories on her epic buckraking. As Amy Chozik of the Times reports, “For about $200,000, Mrs. Clinton will offer pithy reflections and Mitch Albom-style lessons from her time as the nation’s top diplomat. ('Leadership is a team sport.' 'You can’t win if you don’t show up.' 'A whisper can be louder than a shout.')"

Such pablum is worth high dollar to organizations like the American Society of Travel Agents and the National Association of Realtors, as well as to private equity managers and business honchos. Given the possibility of a 2016 presidential run, such blatant cashing in may have costs, but it looks like Clinton is betting that getting her message out to crowded auditoriums and taking in a king’s ransom to do so is worth it. She’s used her speech gigs to talk about immigration reform, foreign policy, healthcare, and other issues. Is it a conflict of interest? Not, as the Post points out, if you consider Clinton getting huge sums speaking to audiences with, oh, millions of dollars at stake in federal tax policies and such to be just another friendly chat.