Again with the speeches. The gross excessiveness of it all, vacuuming up six-figure checks well past the point of rational need or political seemliness. The ceaseless drip of information that ought to have already been released, now being presented with a self-serving back pat over transparency.
I wasn’t planning to write, again, about Hillary Clinton’s compulsive speechifying. I already weighed in nearly a year ago urging her to stop talking. For money, that is.
That unheeded advice came, by my accounting, some $6 million ago. Not including Bill Clinton’s speeches. Not including any speeches that Hillary Clinton made on behalf of the family foundation, which just disclosed that, um, it neglected to disclose somewhere between $12 million and $26 million of money it made by booking the Clintons.
Because, the foundation explained, this money counted as “revenue,” not “donations,” and therefore was not reported. Their reporting pledge covered only donations. (Credit here for continuing the reporting after she left the State Department.)
Let me repeat: I am a fan of Hillary Clinton. But here I find myself, once again, with hair on fire, so let me explain why I find this conduct so disturbing.
It is, granted, a little late to bemoan the spectacle of former presidents, or former anything elses, taking to the lecture circuit to cash in.
When Ronald Reagan, fresh from the White House, pocketed $2 million in speaking fees from a Japanese company, New York Times columnist William Safire sputtered.
“There is such a thing as seemliness, decorum, respect for high office,” he wrote. “If this foreign revolving-door ripoff is right, then what would be wrong with a Return Address at Bitburg, for a million marks, or the dedication of the Gorbachev Glasnost Center, for a million rubles? For a former president with a hot agent and no sense of sleaze, the profit opportunities are endless.”
What once screamed sleaze now is considered post-presidential business as usual. On leaving the White House, George W. Bush said he planned to “replenish the ol’ coffers” with speaking fees. Peter Stone of the Center for Public Integrity calculated in a 2011 article that Bush had raked in about $15 million, “following in the golden path blazed by his predecessor, Bill Clinton.” Bush 43 cited the now-quaint fees — $50,000, $75,000 — his dad commanded.
So what’s the problem when Hillary Clinton gets in on the act? It is the difference between being firmly on the exit side of the revolving door and being poised to circle back in. The former presidents are formers. They’re cashing in on the past.
But Hillary Clinton has, she hopes, a political future. And that counsels prudence. Just because companies are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars doesn’t mean you need to take the money.
Because to take the check is to invite suspicions that they are seeking to curry favor with you, in your future role. And that your actions were influenced by this largesse.
The wiser course — certainly the wiser course on the verge of launching a presidential campaign — is to just say no, however big the bucks. After all, notwithstanding Bill Clinton’s “gotta pay our bills” defense, it’s not as if the couple were scrounging for change in the Chappaqua couch cushions. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has to cash in retirement funds to buy a new fridge. Not the Clintons.
Now comes the news about the previously undisclosed speaking fees that went to the foundation, not the Clintons themselves. The foundation says it is disclosing these out of an abundance of transparency.
True, no law or ethics rule requires such reporting. As to Clinton’s agreement to disclose foundation donors, the position of the foundation and the Clinton campaign is that the document doesn’t include these because they’re “revenue” for services rendered, not charitable gifts.
This interpretation makes no sense. By this logic, Vladimir Putin himself could have given the foundation $2 billion to hear Bill Clinton speak while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state , and it wouldn’t have to be revealed.
Was this a bookkeeping glitch? (Another one, after the failure to specify foreign-government givers on IRS forms, or the previously revealed instances in which donors weren’t reported.) Or was it a calculated end-run around the disclosure agreement? I suspect the former but understand those who tend to the more nefarious interpretation.
One explanation involves bungling; the other, shadiness. Neither is an especially attractive proposition for a presidential candidate.