When Dole Talks, Interest Groups Pay
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 1999; Page A1
On June 14, Elizabeth Dole will fly down to Florida and explain her vision of "An America We Can Be" to 1,200 managed-care executives. It's her standard stump speech, delivered to a key audience in a crucial state for her Republican presidential bid.
But this group, funded in part by large national insurance and pharmaceutical companies keenly interested in the outcome of next year's election, will pay to hear Dole's pitch. Her fee for a few hours' work: $50,000.
A fixture on the pay-for-punditry speaking circuit since before her tenure as head of the American Red Cross, Dole plans to make about a dozen such paid speeches in the coming months, even as she barnstorms the country on a 10-city fund-raising tour for her presidential campaign.
Since Dole said last month she was exploring the race, she has traveled from San Antonio to Palm Springs for five-figure paid speeches to groups such as the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association. The day after her announcement, she went to Las Vegas for another in a series of "success seminars" at which she is a featured attraction.
Dole's campaign would not provide her overall earnings for those talks or give information about the companies and groups to whom she is speaking. But interviews with some of those who have hired her show that Dole is poised to make more than $300,000 in just a few months, collecting from $25,000 to $50,000 a speech.
The corporate interests that hire Dole to give many of the speeches are prohibited from giving directly to her campaign under federal election law, but there is no similar bar on them paying her personally for her appearances. "This is her source of income," said Dole spokesman Ari Fleischer, who defended the paid talks to industry groups such as Atlas Van Lines as prior commitments lined up well before Dole made public her presidential aspirations.
Many once and future politicians make a good portion of their income through big-dollar speeches, but Dole is notable for the number and price of speeches she makes, along with the fact that she has continued making them while organizing a presidential campaign. A few of her presidential rivals are also on the paid speaking circuit, but none on the scale of Dole.
Fleischer said Dole will stop making paid speeches once she formally declares her candidacy but declined to explain why that would put her in a different position than now, when she has already filed papers setting up a campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission and is embarking on major fund-raising efforts for the race. "These [speeches] have been done and will be done in full accordance with FEC regulations," he said.
Among other Republican prospects, multimillionaire publisher Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes, who commands $35,000 a speech, will make three more paid appearances to honor a contract with his New York-based agent, including a May 23 lecture to the National Restaurant Association.
Gary Bauer, former head of the Family Research Council, has done two paid speeches since he announced his exploratory committee and will do two more. And Patrick J. Buchanan, the TV commentator and two-time GOP candidate, will also make several more paid appearances.
But two other presidential hopefuls who have in the past collected big sums on the speaking circuit, former senator Bill Bradley (D) and ex-Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander (R), have given up such talks. Members of Congress, including presidential hopefuls Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio), are barred by law from accepting honoraria for speeches.
"Normally, when a candidate announces their intention to run for president, they take themselves off the [paid] speaking circuit," said Mark French, president of Leading Authorities, which has booked appearances in the past for both Dole and her husband, 1996 GOP presidential nominee Robert J. Dole. "They have to focus on raising money and the lecture circuit isn't necessarily conducive to that."
From Fortune 500 corporate trainers to HMO executives to Texas oilmen, the groups that pay for Dole's carefully scripted talks say they have benefited from the publicity surrounding her presidential prospects, using it to boost attendance, secure media coverage and show their own big givers that they can attract a big-name speaker. The Washington Speakers Bureau, which represents Dole, obliquely mentions her as a presidential prospect and markets her on its Web site as "one of the world's most admired women."
"It makes a higher profile for us," said Lorry Davis, program chair of the Florida Managed Care Institute, where Dole is scheduled to speak in June. Davis said Dole's $50,000 fee is being defrayed in part by "prime sponsors," such as pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer Inc., which pays Dole's husband, himself a six-figure regular on the speaking circuit, to be its Viagra spokesman.
Dole's presidential hopes are inevitably intertwined with her reception at her paid talks. At an appearance last month at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, the largest crowd in the school's history -- about 3,300 -- turned out. Hand-lettered "Dole 2000" signs were spotted in the crowd.
The audience, said school spokesman Peter Gigliotti, was curious to see Dole because "this could be a president." And for Shippensburg, the $25,000 fee was worth it, Gigliotti said, as a way of "showing the quality of people this institution can attract."
The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, which paid for Dole's March speech at the San Antonio Convention Center, also found interest in the lunch boosted by Dole's status as a would-be candidate. The audience of about 950 "conservative" oil industry executives heard what NPRA spokesman Brian Walsh described as "kind of a stump speech."
"Because she is a presidential candidate they were basically looking to hear what she has to say," he said.
The biggest audiences were for Dole's appearances at three "success seminars" run by Florida success guru Peter Lowe. In Las Vegas on March 11, about 8,000 people packed an auditorium at the University of Nevada to hear Dole as well as former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Colin L. Powell and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana. In the District five days later, the crowd at the MCI Center was even bigger -- 15,000. And in Richmond on March 18, nearly 8,000 showed up, many in the crowd shouting "Run, Liddy, run!"
Touted as a "peak performance woman," Dole urges the success audiences to recreate an America that is simpler and safer. She "is one of the top draws when we have her on the program," said Brian Rodgers, a spokesman for the seminars, "most recently, because of her announcement of the exploratory committee."
While those appearances were star-studded occasions including the fanfare of an introduction complete with "Star Wars" anthem in the background, not all of Dole's paid speeches are quite so glamorous.
Later this month, she is scheduled to "share her personal reflections and observations on the changes and challenges facing America today" in a Chicago address to Atlas Van Lines' "32nd annual forum on moving." The April 30 speech at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare will be the keynote of a conference whose other sessions focus on topics such as "relocation budget issues" and "claims handling."
Staff writer Ceci Connolly and staff researchers Alice Crites and Ben White contributed to this report.
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