Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Chicago last month to give a major speech in a cavernous convention hall. Her audience was 15,000 human resources professionals, and her remarks were tailored specifically to how immigration reform and President Obama’s health-care overhaul might affect their industry.
In the six months since stepping down as secretary of state, Clinton has addressed apartment-complex developers in Dallas, private-equity managers in Los Angeles and business executives in Grand Rapids, Mich. Still to come are travel agents, real estate brokers, clinical pathologists and car dealers — collecting more than $200,000 per appearance, according to one executive who arranges speaking tours.
This is how Clinton is cashing in on her star power as she weighs whether to run for the White House. The would-be Democratic front-runner is barnstorming the country, delivering speeches and answering questions at events sponsored by industry groups eager to gain access to someone who may be the next president.
Clinton is the only leading 2016 contender giving paid speeches, with at least 14 delivered or scheduled so far, in part because ethics rules prohibit sitting lawmakers from doing so. Past presidential contenders, such as Republicans Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, gave relatively few such addresses, and for much lower five-figure fees.
A hectic speaking schedule is more common for those who have left electoral politics for good, including her husband, former president Bill Clinton — who has racked up tens of millions of dollars in speaking fees since leaving office — and other former secretaries of state, such as Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright.
Most of the trade groups Clinton has addressed actively lobby Congress on issues both substantial and mundane. The American Society of Travel Agents, which Clinton will address in September, wants airlines to provide data to travel agencies about baggage and boarding fees. The National Multi Housing Council, which Clinton addressed in April, advocates, among other things, low-interest loans for those who deal with bedbug infestations.
When she spoke to the Society for Human Resource Management in June, association chief executive Hank Jackson said, “We were very pleased that most of her speech was tailored towards HR issues.”
“She didn’t realize how intimately involved we are in providing feedback to Congress on how immigration from a practical perspective — not from a political perspective — is affecting businesses’ ability to manage talent,” Jackson said. “Giving her that insight was something that she could take away from the meeting.”
Other audiences have many millions of dollars at stake in federal tax policies. In June, Clinton addressed an investor meeting in Los Angeles of KKR, the private-equity giant, and fielded questions from firm co-founder Henry Kravis. Her appearance, first reported by Politico, was confirmed by a KKR spokeswoman.
Clinton’s spokesman declined to talk publicly about her speaking schedule.
One person familiar with Clinton’s private speeches said she is not being lobbied at the appearances. “She’s talking about her experiences at State, and people have questions that are as you’d expect, but no one’s getting up and lobbying her,” said the person, who discussed the events on the condition of anonymity.
Ron Kaufman, a Republican lobbyist and top adviser to former president George H.W. Bush, said such events allow groups to promote their agendas. “Whether they’re listened to is a different ballgame,” he said. “I think she’s not the kind of person who will be influenced by it, but they can establish pre-communications.”
Clinton’s office does not publicly release her schedule, and most of her paid engagements are closed to the news media. The paid appearances are arranged through the Harry Walker Agency, which also represents her husband.
The agency does not reveal her speaking fee. But one top executive at a rival speakers bureau, who requested anonymity to share internal industry details, said it is more than $200,000.
Former president George W. Bush, by contrast, commands $100,000 to $150,000 per speech, as do former Bush administration officials such as Rice and Powell, the executive said. Only Clinton’s husband is on a par with her in speaking fees among political figures, the executive said.
Many organizations that hire Clinton to speak heavily promote the booking, using her name and portrait to gin up registrations and sales for their conventions.
“These speeches are what an ex-secretary of state, ex-senator, ex-first lady, someone who’s an international star, ought to be making,” said Mickey Kantor, a longtime Clinton family loyalist. “I don’t see anything unusual about it.”
When Clinton left office after traveling to 112 countries in four years, she described herself as exhausted and said she was looking forward to catching up with family and friends, watching home design shows (her favorite is HGTV’s “Love It or List It”), and writing her next book. She also had a blood-clot scare in January that landed her in the hospital for several days.
“I just want to sleep and exercise and travel for fun,” she said in a New York Times interview late last year. “And relax. It sounds so ordinary, but I haven’t done it for 20 years. I would like to see whether I can get untired.”
But Clinton, 65, has not taken much time off since. In addition to her paid appearances, she has given more than a dozen pro bono speeches — in some cases to accept awards, such as the American Bar Association’s ABA Medal, which she will receive in San Francisco next month.
“I am pleased to see that she is not slowing down as Citizen Clinton,” former congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Calif.) said in introducing Clinton at a Bryn Mawr College event Tuesday.
This fall, Clinton’s schedule picks up considerably. In November, Clinton will bounce from Orlando (the Learning 2013 education conference) to San Francisco (the National Association of Realtors) and back to Orlando (Press Ganey Associates, a health-care firm). Her 2014 calendar is starting to fill up, too, with a January booking before the National Automobile Dealers Association.
Both Democratic and Republican operatives said the strategy is smart for Clinton, so long as she avoids controversial groups and focuses on nonpolitical and often business-friendly audiences.
Clinton has addressed events aimed at both Democrats and Republicans, according to event organizers. When she was the keynote speaker a June gala for the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, one of the evening’s honorees was Amway President Doug DeVos, a prominent Republican whose family has given tens of millions of dollars to conservative causes.
In May, Clinton was introduced by former Nixon secretary of state Henry Kissinger at an Atlantic Council black-tie gala in Washington. Council President Frederick Kempe said Kissinger “brought down the house when he alluded to her future presidential possibilities.”
Former congresswoman Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.), a Clinton friend and Atlantic Council leader, said: “It was a huge, blowout event. . . . There were so many people inside the Ritz-Carlton that you couldn’t move.”
Clinton’s speaking schedule illustrates her deep network of contacts across industries. She agreed to give a paid speech to the American Society for Clinical Pathology in Chicago this September in part, organizers said, because of the group’s work with the Clinton Global Initiative, her family’s charitable organization.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D), a former aide to her husband, will introduce Clinton, and E. Blair Holladay, the group’s executive vice president, will ask her questions from the stage. Holladay said Clinton’s fee, which he would not disclose, will be covered by event sponsors, including some pharmaceutical companies.
Holladay noted that when Bill Clinton addressed the group’s convention in 2011, he requested a spread of vegan food backstage. “I haven’t gotten any specific requests from Hillary,” he said.
One of the first groups to book Clinton was the relatively low-profile Pacific Council on International Policy, which awarded her its inaugural Warren Christopher Public Service Award. The council’s co-chairman is Kantor, who served along with Christopher in Bill Clinton’s Cabinet.
“I called her and there was not much hesitation whatsoever in accepting,” Kantor said, adding that she “took no fee at all.”
The former first lady’s staff picked the date, May 8, and gave organizers about six weeks to plan the gala at the luxurious Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.
“We sold out relatively early,” Pacific Council President Jerrold D. Green said. “What we all assume is that she is running for president.”
Many of Clinton’s audiences assume the same.
In April, when Clinton appeared in front of the National Multi Housing Council, a trade group of apartment complex developers, she did not deliver a speech. Instead, organizers asked her to pose for pictures with the group’s executive council and answer questions on stage from the group’s chairman, Thomas S. Bozzuto, a Maryland developer.
“Naturally,” Bozzuto said, “she ducked my question when I asked her if she was going to run for president.”