Examining Bill Clinton’s paid speeches when Hillary was Secretary of State

Bill and Hillary Clinton invented a novel way of personally enriching themselves while Hillary held the offices of the US senator from New York and the US Secretary of State. During Hillary’s tenure in public office, Bill gave 544 speeches which earned him a total of $105,986,691, or an average of $194,828 per speech.

As pointed out in a previous post, it was never accepted before Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State, that high office holders could personally enrich themselves while in office, but the Clintons found a loophole around that restriction through a spouse. It would not be surprising if other high office holders copy the Clintons’ example in the future, by using family members to collect money from groups which seek to influence public policy or gain favors from the government.

Questions have been raised whether these 544 speeches served as a vehicle to violate public corruption laws. As the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is alleged to have done favors for two dozen groups which donated to the Clinton Foundation and/or paid Bill to give speeches. Each of those allegations merits a separate investigation with power of subpoena to gather evidence and question witnesses under oath.

Without the power to conduct a full legal investigation, it is difficult to know whether the Clintons broke the law. However, examining the numbers of Bill’s paid speeches may be instructive in investigating patterns of possible influence buying and corruption. To that end, I have created a spreadsheet of all the paid speeches by Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton and placed it in the public domain so that any concerned citizen may analyze the numbers and investigate which groups were giving money to the Clintons and their Foundation.

For most former presidents of the United States, the speaking fees which they command falls the longer they are out of office, since they are judged to have less political influence the longer they are away from the presidency. Bill Clinton’s speaking fees, however, exhibit a curious pattern. His speaking fees have risen over time, as Hillary has gained more political power and her potential to hold higher office has increased.

In the period between Jan. 1, 2001 and Jan 19, 2007, when Hillary Clinton was a US senator, but not running for the US presidency, Bill’s average fee was $166,775 per speech. That fee rose to $200,449 between Jan. 20 2007 and Jan. 20, 2009 when Hillary was running for the presidency and named as the future Secretary of State. Bill’s average speaking fee rose again during Hillary’s tenure as Secretary of State to $225,540. It peaked in 2013 at $244,199 per speech, and has since dropped down to $181,820 in 2015. This recent fall in average speaking fees is mostly due to the fact that Bill has been giving fewer foreign speeches in recent years, for which he charges higher prices. In 2014, he only gave 6 foreign speeches and in 2015 he gave none.

billclintonsaveragespeechfeeovertime

Even when using the Consumer Price Index to adjust for inflation, it is clear that Bill’s speaking fees have risen over time. In constant 2001 dollars, Bill’s average fees for domestic speeches have risen 32%, from $136,250 in 2001 to $181,820 in 2015. They jumped up $28K in 2005 and then another $20k  in 2008, when it looked like Hillary might become the next president of the US. Then, they jumped another $29k in 2013, but otherwise they have mostly stayed flat.

In contrast, the average speaking fees of Bill’s foreign speeches have risen dramatically, growing 121% between 2001 and 2013, when they peaked at $485,714 per speech (or
$369,253 in constant 2001 dollars). Bill was still willing to give foreign speeches for his standard fee around $200,000 in 2011-2013, but he gave a startling number of speeches during this period where he received between $400,000 and $700,000. These outlier speeches for which Bill received more than double his standard fee dramatically pulled up the average.

billclintonnumberofspeechesover400k

Even more curious is the fact that 37 out of the 39 of these outlier speeches costing $400,000 or more were given abroad, and 30 out of the 39 occurred during the years 2009-2013, when Hillary was Secretary of State or had just vacated that office. The question is why would foreign entities be willing to give overly generous sums of money to the spouse of the US Secretary of State?

Another curious aspect of the speaking fees for Bill Clinton is the number of organizations who repeatedly paid Bill to give speeches. After hearing Bill’s pearls of wisdom once and getting the photo op with him for company propaganda, why hire him to give speeches again and again?

What the numbers show is that a select number of foreign entities paid Bill Clinton large speaking fees and another select number of entities in North America paid him to repeatedly give speeches in the US and Canada. Of course, these numbers alone aren’t proof of criminal wrongdoing, but the first place investigators of Hillary Clinton should start looking is her interactions with the organizations which paid her husband large speaking fees.

Even more important than the legal question of whether Hillary technically violated public corruption laws while Secretary of State, there is the question of the legalized corruption of the American political system. The Clintons have introduced four “innovations” in American political corruption, which didn’t exist before they invented them:

  1. The Clintons during the 1990s used access to the White House to raise money, such as letting donors sleep in the Lincoln bedroom and come to tea at the White House.
  2. Hillary introduced the practice of a public office holder using her spouse to get rich and allegedly sell influence while in office. As already explained, Bill’s paid speeches funneled $106 million into the Clintons’ pockets while Hillary held public office.
  3. The Clintons created a “charity” which only spent 5.7% of its budget on charitable grants in 2014, yet allowed the politician to hand out jobs to her operatives and keep them employed until the next election. 181 of the groups lobbying the State Department when Hillary was Secretary of State gave money to this “charity”. US office holders have never been able to keep their staff permanently employed before this Clinton “innovation”. Because staff can be  moved back and forth between working for Bill and Hillary in the political sphere and working for their Foundation, their political patronage becomes more effective and their operatives can be deployed faster on a political campaign or when staffing an office.
  4. Hillary introduced the practice of colluding with state parties to circumvent the legal limit of $10,000 in political donations to a candidate within a year’s time. She made an agreement with 33 Democratic state parties so a big-money donor could give up to $330,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund in a single year. This “innovation” funneled $26 million into Hillary’s campaign to beat Bernie Sanders and Martin O’malley in order to win the Democratic Primary. 

The Clintons are hardly alone in participating in the legalized corruption of American politics. Gilens and Page (2014) examined 1979 policy changes enacted between 1981 and 2002 where there were public opinion polls conducted to indicate public preference according to income group. Gilens and Page found that:

When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have  only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.
This conclusion mirrors the research by Thomas Hayes (2013), which concludes that the US congress shows “consistent responsiveness toward upper income constituents,” with less toward middle income constituents and almost none for those of lower income.

Because small groups with wealth can effectively influence the decisions of the US government, they have enacted legislation which benefits special interests and the economic elite. The fact that effective taxation rates for the wealthy are at record lows and 20 Americans now own as much wealth as 50% of the US population is a demonstration of how much American public policy has been effectively bought by wealth interests.

Investigating Hillary Clinton for alleged violation of public corruption laws is not a panacea for getting money out of the US political system. In fact, it will probably only be initiated as a partisan witchhunt by Republicans who are just as tied to moneyed interests as the Clintons. They will likely seek to indict Hillary Clinton on narrow grounds which don’t call into question their own culpability in the current system. Nonetheless, public investigations of a president can open up the political space and the public demand for larger reforms. The senatorial investigation of Nixon which led to his resignation, plus the prior resignation of Spiro Agnew, led to a whole series of reforms to clean up government in the 1970s.
In the short term, a public investigation of Hillary Clinton will surely lead to even more gridlock in Washington and a bout of ugly partisanship, but it may be necessary to spur the general public into mobilizing for the reform of election finance laws and to convince powerful groups the US that the current system is untenable and must be reformed for the sake of  long-term stability. At the very least, it will send a power message to the political class that corruption as usual is politically risky, so it is best to reign in the worst abuses and avoid the appearance of corruption, in the name of political expediency.
Note: I am placing this article in the public domain, so it can be reposted and modified without my permission.
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