For Clinton, New Wealth In Speeches

Former president Bill Clinton addressing the China Internet Summit in September 2005. Most of his speaking-fee earnings come from abroad.
Former president Bill Clinton addressing the China Internet Summit in September 2005. Most of his speaking-fee earnings come from abroad. (By Eugene Hoshiko -- Associated Press)
By John Solomon and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 23, 2007

Former president Bill Clinton, who came to the White House with modest means and left deeply in debt, has collected nearly $40 million in speaking fees over the past six years, according to interviews and financial disclosure statements filed by his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Last year, one of his most lucrative since he left the presidency, Clinton earned $9 million to $10 million on the lecture circuit. He averaged almost a speech a day -- 352 for the year -- but only about 20 percent were for personal income. The others were given for no fee or for donations to the William J. Clinton Foundation, the nonprofit group he founded to pursue causes such as the fight against AIDS.

His paid speeches included $150,000 appearances before landlord groups, biotechnology firms and food distributors, as well as speeches in England, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia that together netted him more than $1.6 million. On one particularly good day in Canada, Clinton made $475,000 for two speeches, more than double his annual salary as president.

"I never had a nickel to my name until I got out of the White House, and now I'm a millionaire, the most favored person for the Washington Republicans," Clinton told a friendly audience in Kentucky last fall. "I get a tax cut every year, no matter what our needs are."

Indeed, the Clintons -- who left the White House with an estimated $12 million in legal debts rung up during the Whitewater, campaign fundraising and Monica S. Lewinsky investigations -- are worth an estimated $10 million to $50 million, according to Hillary Clinton's most recent disclosure form. That is attributable primarily to the speaking fees and to the seven-figure book deals that both Clintons signed shortly after leaving the White House.

The fortune they have amassed gives the Clintons a nest egg for the first time, and it allows them to tap into that wealth for a campaign if Hillary Clinton, as expected, forgoes public financing in her race for president. It also suggests a sometimes close connection between their personal finances and her political career.

Many of Bill Clinton's six-figure speeches have been made to companies whose employees and political action committees have been among Hillary Clinton's top backers in her Senate campaigns. The New York investment giant Goldman Sachs paid him $650,000 for four speeches in recent years. Its employees and PAC have given her $270,000 since 2000 -- putting it second on the list of her most generous political patrons.

The banking firm Citigroup, whose employees and PAC have been Hillary Clinton's top source of campaign donations, with more than $320,000, paid her husband $250,000 for a speech in France in 2004. Last year, it committed $5.5 million for Clinton's Global Initiative to help encourage entrepreneurship and financial education among the poor.

Asked about the companies and their relationship to the Clintons, Jay Carson, a spokesman for the former president, said, "It certainly makes sense that reputable New York companies who support the policies and works of President Clinton and his foundation would also be supportive of their senator."

Finding Foreign Audiences

Over the past two decades, speaking for money, especially to foreign audiences, has become a common way for ex-presidents to find financial security. Ronald Reagan raised eyebrows collecting $2 million in Japan shortly after he left office in 1989. And George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter have both traveled extensively to lecture for pay.

The elder Bush, who was wealthy before he became president, had an active speaking schedule after he left the White House, and as recently as 2004 he was reported to have been paid between $125,000 and $150,000 for a series of speeches in China. He has also held seats on corporate boards. But much of his activity remains private because he is under no obligation to disclose it.

Mark K. Updegrove, author of a book on the activities of former presidents, said Clinton remains a huge draw even six years after leaving the White House. "One thing makes President Clinton slightly different from his predecessors," Updegrove said. "Not only has he carried the prestige of the presidency, but he maintains the mystique of celebrity."

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