Hillary Clinton is trending on Twitter and the now viral #HillaryIsSoPoor hashtag is hardly the banner she was looking for as she promotes her new book, Hard Choices.
But she has only herself to blame, for suggesting she is raking in the cash now to make up for times she was “dead broke.”
It was, to Camp Clinton’s chagrin, perhaps the most memorable takeaway of her first book rollout interview--with ABC's Diane Sawyer--at Secretary Clinton’s high-end home in Washington.
Sawyer asked about the $5 million ballpark estimates of Clinton’s take from paid speeches since leaving the State Department. She didn’t dispute the figure, and was quick to play the victim card.
"We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt," Clinton told Sawyer. "We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea's education. You know, it was not easy."
During their time on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Clinton’s bank account was hit with legal fees associated with the likes of Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals. According to Hillary, the couple was nearly $12 million in debt.
OK, but maybe she has lost count of how long ago that was, or how much money she and her husband the former president made over the years. Because, truth be told, simple math makes the case for #HillaryIsNotSoPoor.
Bill Clinton left the White House 14 years ago. Even before the Clintons handed over the keys to George and Laura Bush, Hillary received a record $8 million advance for her earlier memoir, Living History. And over the course of the next seven years, the Clintons earned over $100 million, a good chunk of that from Bill Clinton’s popularity on the highest end of the paid speaking circuit.
It’s a cushy job if you can get it, and many former top politicians do. In Secretary Clinton’s case, a reported $200,000 base speaking fee plus, as is often the case in such deals, access to a private jet and other luxury travel perks. (The Harry Walker Agency, which represents both Bill and Hillary Clinton, did not respond to requests for comment.)
In the ABC interview, the likely 2016 presidential contender attributes their current financial success to hard work. “Bill has worked really hard -- and it's been amazing to me -- he's worked very hard. First of all, we had to pay off all our debts, which was, you know, he had to make double the money because of obviously taxes and then pay off the debts and get us houses and take care of family members."
But the big bucks weren’t all because of Bill. Safe to say she is contributing to the family fortune now – big time.
Since leaving the State Department, Clinton has made roughly 100 speeches, and pocketed nearly $5 million. Her hosts have ranged from investment banks to trade associations to nonprofit galas, with top bidders ranging from Fidelity Investments in Naples, Florida to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in Los Angeles, California.
Hillary defended her speaking engagements, saying she didn’t want to become part of Washington’s revolving door as a rainmaker. "Let me put it this way," said Clinton. "I thought making speeches for money was a much better thing than getting connected with any one group or company as so many people who leave public life do."
Occasionally, Hillary Clinton makes unpaid speeches. "I happen to have given lots of free speeches," she told Sawyer. This year, Clinton spoke before students at Bryn Mawr University, the United Methodist Women Conference in Kentucky and was the keynote speaker at the Voices of September 11th "Always Remember" Gala.
Debby McEneaney, who was a co-chair of the gala, said she gained insight into who Hillary was as a person when she came to speak. “She came off as so warm and genuine. She really spoke to the families and from the heart. She touched everyone who was listening,” said McEneaney adding, “And I think they were mostly Republicans.”
The big take from paid speeches – and her “dead broke” answer when asked about them – raises a potentially difficult set of questions for any politician: Is she out of touch? Can she understand MY financial stresses?
It’s a question John Kerry faced when he was photographed lounging on his 76-foot yacht while vacationing on Nantucket in the midst of the Egyptian military coup. It’s one Mitt Romney faced time and time again after it was reported that he had a private car elevator in his new southern California home. Democrats ridiculed John McCain when he couldn’t remember how many houses he owned.
Wealth itself is hardly a negative; Americans have a history of electing presidents with personal or family fortunes. But handling questions about wealth and status can be very tricky.
And Republicans already see an opening to test Clinton.
The Republican National Committee was quick with this:
“Despite a six-figure taxpayer funded income and a book deal worth $8 million, it’s laughable to think that Bill and Hillary Clinton left the White House broke,” RNC spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement. “Between their million dollar mansions in New York and Washington and her ridiculously expensive speaking fees, it’s clear nobody could be more out of touch than Hillary Clinton.”
Hillary can afford a lot of things, but an ongoing storyline about her being ‘out of touch’ isn’t one of them. That’s why she moved to contain the “dead broke” firestorm on Tuesday, appearing on Good Morning America.
“Let me just clarify that I fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans today,” Clinton said in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts. “Bill and I were obviously blessed. We worked hard for everything we got in our lives and we continue to work hard, and we’ve been blessed in the last 14 years. So for me it’s just a reality what we faced when he got out of the White House, it meant that we just had to keep working really hard.”
Should Hillary throw her hat in the ring in 2016, the places she and her husband have collected money from will be fair game, including their international speaking appearances. As we learned when Hillary disclosed her financial records in 2008, Bill Clinton collected a significant amount more by giving speeches abroad, including the $700,000 he was paid to speak in Lagos, Nigeria.
While Clinton is careful not to speak to groups that endorse political candidates, they often run in the same circles as major political donors. The National Association of Realtors, Goldman Sachs, the Carlyle Group, and the US Green Building Council are among those who’ve paid the big bucks to host Hillary.
There’s a reason why politicians legally can’t accept gifts while serving in office. It’s the age-old idea of returning the favor. And when it comes to Hillary, critics and watchdog groups will suggest those cutting the checks for paid speeches now might expect a more sympathetic hearing if she finds herself sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office come January 2017.
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