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."
Two-thirds of the former president's speaking money has come from foreign sources. Outside the United States, clients are willing to pay more to hear him speak, Clinton is able to conduct his charitable work on AIDS, and he can avoid upstaging his wife on the American political scene, associates say.
Foreign clients have included Saudi Arabia's Dabbagh investment firm, which paid $600,000 for two speeches, and China's JingJi Real Estate Development Group, run by a local Communist Party official, which paid $200,000 for a speech. The Mito City Political Research Group, a Japanese political studies center, paid Clinton $400,000 for a 2002 speech about politics.
Besides Goldman Sachs, the two firms that have paid Clinton the most over the past six years are foreign-based. Gold Services International, an event organizer based in Bogota, Colombia, brought Clinton to Latin America in the summer of 2005 for $800,000 in speaking fees. The Power Within, a motivational-speech company in Toronto, paid Clinton $650,000 for speeches in Canada in 2005 and brought him back for an undisclosed sum in 2006. The company was founded by Salim Khoja, a Kenyan immigrant who years earlier was convicted of stock fraud and was barred for life from the brokerage business.Speaking for Charity
The nearly $40 million total is based on Hillary Clinton's annual ethics report to Congress, which showed that her husband made more than $30 million from speeches from 2001 to 2005. Under Senate ethics rules, she does not have to disclose 2006 fees until mid-May, and the estimate for that year's totals is based on interviews with speech organizers, who confirmed an additional $9 million to $10 million in fees.
Beyond the millions he has earned personally, the former president has given dozens more speeches that result in payments to the William J. Clinton Foundation, his nonprofit charity in New York. His associates say those have yielded millions to help cover the $60 million annual budget the foundation spends to fund his charitable work on AIDS and world hunger.
The Clintons declined to disclose the size and sources of the payments for speeches he delivered on behalf of the charity. Campaign law and Senate ethics rules require Hillary Clinton to disclose only the fees her husband has taken as personal income, not those he routed to charity.
The former president declined repeated requests to discuss his speeches or the income he earns from them. "The reason that he picked paid speeches is that it is an efficient way for him to make a living for his family and allow him a lot of time to do charitable work, which is his passion," said Carson, his spokesman.
Carson said Clinton's staff constructs his schedule to pack as much charitable work as possible -- along with political events helpful to Democrats -- around his for-profit speaking career.
"We take a look at the schedule and say, 'All right, he has to be in this place for that paid speech. There are these three or four great things we've been meaning to do in this place. Let's do them,' " Carson said.
Last June, for example, Clinton booked a speech in Denver before the National Apartment Association, the industry group for landlords, which earned him $150,000.
When his office heard that funds were lagging for a nearby memorial to victims of the Columbine High School massacre, he volunteered to be the keynote speaker at the groundbreaking ceremony -- at no charge -- and instantly boosted fundraising. On the dais that day, when told the project was still short of its goal, he pledged $50,000 that could be matched by a local company. On the same trip, he addressed a politically important group of school principals.
Likewise, in February 2006, Clinton headed to Asia for charitable work to help tsunami and AIDS victims. At the last minute, the State Department asked him to squeeze in a visit to Pakistan, helping ease tensions among Muslims angered by political cartoons they considered insulting. He then tacked on three days of paid engagements in Australia and New Zealand that earned him about $750,000.'It Was Worth It'
Those willing to pay Clinton to speak say they can pack a hall with people eager to hear his question-and-answer sessions on Middle East peace, his motivational seminars, or his lectures on globalization that weave together personal anecdotes and detailed data aimed at inspiring corporate executives to compete better in the 21st-century global economy.
Clinton can also transform a fundraising event.
The former president in 2005 helped the U.S. arm of Israel's treasury authority sell $101 million in investment bonds by speaking at a luncheon at the Pierre Hotel in New York that was jammed with real estate executives who wanted to hear his keynote address.
A Catholic group in Canada far exceeded its fundraising goal when it hired Clinton to address a fundraising gala for domestic violence services last November. The crowds came despite protests by Catholic bishops who urged a boycott because of the group's support for abortion rights.
"We had people buying $500 tickets for a lunch. This was a once-in-a-lifetime event for them," said Andrew Wilding of the Catholic Family Counseling Center in Kitchener, Ontario. "They did it in lieu of Christmas gifts, birthday gifts. It was unbelievable."
Kevin O'Marah, senior vice president of AMR Research, an industry group for retail, food and manufacturing suppliers, said the process of signing Clinton to speak last year was so complex -- including filling out multiple forms explaining to Clinton's office and the speakers bureau he uses why the group wanted him -- that "it was like applying for college."
"But it was worth it," he said, adding that Clinton's speech to 900 executives at AMR's annual conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., inspired many in the audience to consider what they could do to address global hunger.More Money, More Access
Clinton gets a flat fee for those overseas events, but event promoters sometimes offer a tier of options to their patrons. Spending more means gaining more access. This was the case when Clinton collected at least $900,000 last fall for speeches in England and Ireland promoted by longtime golfing partner Satty Singh, a wealthy businessman based in Glasgow, Scotland.
Those who paid about $1,000 to see Clinton at the Burlington Hotel in Dublin on Sept. 27 gained entry to a champagne reception and lunch before the speech. For $4,000 more, they got VIP perks that included a photo and a goody bag containing an autographed copy of his memoir. For about $150,000, corporate sponsors were assured of seats close to Clinton.
Clinton receives thousands of speaking requests a year and accepts a few hundred. Despite the extensive vetting, at least two companies that booked him were under federal investigation.
In February 2005, Clinton traveled to the Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas and collected $150,000 from Swiss biotechnology giant Serono International for a speech that touched on global AIDS. Serono's U.S. arm was then embroiled in a well-publicized federal investigation into giveaways to doctors who unnecessarily prescribed its AIDS drug. A few months after the speech, the company pleaded guilty to two federal conspiracy charges and agreed to pay $704 million in fines.
Clinton also accepted $125,000 in December 2001 to address workers at International Profit Associates, an Illinois company that advises small businesses. At the time, IPA was the focus of a federal investigation -- started during the Clinton administration -- and a government lawsuit alleging widespread sexual harassment.
Like many who have paid the former president to give a speech, IPA executives have been helpful to his wife's campaigns in New York. Her campaign and political action committee have collected nearly $150,000 in donations from the company's officials, making IPA one of her largest single sources of campaign contributions since she ran for the Senate in 2000. The company also flew her aboard its corporate jet, according to a 2004 reimbursement item on her campaign finance report.
Asked about the IPA and Serono speeches, Carson said: "We take our vetting process very seriously. We do our best to try to catch any issues. And given the volume of that, we are not always perfect."
Clinton continues to book new lectures this year as his wife campaigns for president. He will be in Montreal for a motivational speech next month.
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling and research database editor Derek Willis contributed to this report.