The Growing Flap Over Hillary’s Mega Speaking Fees
Policy + Politics

The Growing Flap Over Hillary’s Mega Speaking Fees

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) reportedly was speechless for 15 seconds this week before being able to respond to a question about Hillary Clinton’s latest big-money speaking engagement.

The former First Lady and Secretary of State is scheduled to appear this coming October at a fundraiser for a foundation that promotes the University of Nevada at Las Vegas – and she’s charging a speaking fee of $225,000.

Related: Just How Rich Is Hillary Clinton?

Clinton’s office told The Washington Post that the money would go to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, the family’s non-profit global philanthropic organization; a UNLV spokesperson said Clinton’s fee is covered by private sponsorships and not public money. Still, that is a staggering amount to charge the arm of a publicly supported research institution in a state with the country’s second highest unemployment rate.

“Anything we can do to focus attention on UNLV, that’s extremely important to do, and this certainly will focus attention on UNLV, and that’s why they have these people come,” Reid finally stammered to reporters after being asked if he thought the fee was a good use of money by the foundation, according to The Las Vegas Review-Journal. He quickly added, “I didn’t have anything to do with the decision.”

This latest fee of nearly a quarter of a million dollars for what will probably be a variation of Hillary Clinton’s stump speech is further driving a narrative unwelcome to Democrats—that Hillary and Bill Clinton are raking in big bucks from mostly special interest groups after she complained to ABC’s Diane Sawyer earlier this month, “We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.”

She later tried to walk back those comments, noting on ABC’s Good Morning America, “We understand what that struggle is because we had student debts — both of us — we had to pay off, we had to work, I had a couple jobs in law school, he had lots of jobs.” She added, “We have a life experience clearly different in very dramatic ways from every American, but we also have gone through a lot of the same challenges as many people have.”

Related: Hillary Clinton 2016 Alert: Watch Your Left Flank

If she runs, Hillary Clinton is considered a shoe-in for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination – although the controversy over her family’s rapid accumulation of wealth puts her squarely at the high end of the 1 percent and makes it more difficult for her to be the poster candidate for income inequality. 

“If Mrs. Clinton has Democratic opposition in 2016, I could see this becoming an issue,” said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. “There is a strong populist faction in the party, though many in the faction have already endorsed Hillary.” 

“It will be much tougher for a Republican to use this against her, even a Republican of modest wealth, since almost all Republicans strongly support capitalism,” Sabato added. “These massive fees seem excessive to most people, but it would be an odd attack from any GOP nominee, except perhaps to suggest that any pretension by Clinton of being an average American with everyday problems is ludicrous.”

Precise figures are hard to come by, but the Center for Responsive Politics estimated broadly that Hillary Clinton’s net worth is between $5.2 and $25.5 million as of 2012. Bill Clinton amassed $104.9 million for delivering 542 speeches around the world between 2001 and 2013, according to a new analysis by The Washington Post. Most others put their combined net worth—including real estate, investments, etc. at well over $100 million.

Hillary, though, has done quite well for herself since leaving the State Department in February 2013. A report by Mother Jones says she’s made at least 90 speeches, and was paid for at least two dozen of them.

Assuming she charged her usual fee of $200,000 or more per speech, the magazine estimated that Clinton took in nearly $5 million for appearances over 15 months. She’s addressed at least seven colleges and universities in that period and collected fees from at least four of them: Hamilton College on Oct. 4, 2013; Colgate University on Oct. 25, 2013; University of Miami on Feb. 26, 2014; and UCLA’s Luskin Lecture for Thought on March 5 of this year.

Sabato said that the fee Clinton is charging UNLV would spark a heated controversy at most public colleges. “Maybe a wealthy alumnus paid the tab, but it certainly looks bad,” he said in an interview. “I have to brag on UVA [the University of Virginia]. It is one of the few colleges that won't pay commencement speakers a penny, nor even give out honorary degrees . . . . A request for $25,000, much less $225,000, would be laughed off the premises.”

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