Just what exactly did Hillary Clinton tell Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs to earn such hefty speaking fees? No one knows, because Hillary kept a tight lid on access to the events, with no journalists allowed and all transcriptions left under her control. With Bernie Sanders attacking her progressive credibility by noting her long and lucrative association with the Left’s bêtes noires in the financial industry, more and more people would like access to those transcripts. NBC’s Chuck Todd challenged her during last night’s debate to release them all. Her response? She’ll … “look into it.”
In other words, don’t hold your breath:
TODD: Are you willing to release the transcripts of all your paid speeches? We do know through reporting that there were transcription services for all of those paid speeches. In full disclosure, would you release all of them?
CLINTON: I will look into it. I don’t know the status, but I will certainly look into it. But, I can only repeat what is the fact that I spoke to a lot of different groups with a lot of different constituents, a lot of different kinds of members about issues that had to do with world affairs. I probably described more times than I can remember how stressful it was advising the President about going after Bin Laden.
Suuuuuuuure, she’ll “look into it.” This has come up occasionally ever since early last year, when the massive wealth increase of the Clintons during her tenure as Secretary of State ($57.5 million) became known. That’s when the contractual restrictions on access to her speeches emerged, at first in the context of the huge fees she charged colleges, but then more about entities with a lot more political clout. Hillary has had months, if not years, to release those transcripts and allay fears about her seemingly close relationship with Wall Street giants. A promise to “look into it” as the primaries begin insults the intelligence of all who hear it.
Chris Cillizza wasn’t impressed with the answer, but understands that Hillary has no choice but to dissemble:
Why not release them then — since they would likely reaffirm Clinton’s argument in the race that she has been there and done that at the highest level of national and international diplomacy? My guess is that in the speeches, Clinton likely acknowledges her various friends and acquaintances at Goldman Sachs (and other Wall Street firms) and praises them for the work they are doing.
Yes, it’s standard small talk. But it could look really, really bad in the context of the current campaign. Imagine a transcript of Clinton speaking to some big bank or investment firm where she thanks a litany of people she’s “been friends with forever” and then praises the broader enterprise for “all you do.”
In the hands of Sanders and his campaign team/supporters, that sort of thing could wind up being very problematic to Clinton’s attempts — already somewhat clumsy — to cast herself as a true progressive fighter for the 99 percent against the one percent. It might even proof deadly to those attempts.
Yahoo’s Rick Newman is also unimpressed, but for different reasons:
Clinton herself has handled the whole matter as if it’s a scandal, however, revealing the discomfort she feels being tied to Wall Street. To dig into just one detail: When Cooper asked her whether she had to be paid $225,000 per speech by Goldman, she said, “Well I don’t know. That’s what they offered.” That’s baloney. A review of Clinton’s 92 paid speeches from the time she stepped down as Secretary of State in 2013 to the time she declared herself a presidential candidate in 2015 shows her average fee was $234,000 per speech. Speaker bureaus typically negotiate speaking engagements on behalf of high-flying clients such as Clinton, and they don’t accept whatever the group seeking a speaker offers. Instead, they stipulate a minimum fee and work upward from there.
Clinton actually undercharged Goldman Sachs, since she was paid $9,000 less than her average fee. The most she got for a speech was $400,000, from the Jewish United Fund in October of 2013. Qualcomm paid her $335,000 in 2014, while eBay paid her $315,000 in 2015. Those groups might have gotten a better deal had they bargained harder.
Besides, Newman argues, Hillary was just earning what the market would bear, so why should anyone find this problematic?
Any other candidate might defend his or her right to make as much money as possible while a private citizen. Donald Trump would probably boast about it and cite the exorbitant speaking fees as evidence of how much people love him. If Clinton were more comfortable being a capitalist, she might come right out and say, “I like being rich, and I want you, dear voter, to get rich too.”
Political donations from Wall Street—and from any other moneyed interest—are a totally different matter and a genuine cause for concern, especially the unlimited amounts of money rich donors can give to super PACs. Such donations do not represent a market price for work performed in a private transaction. At best, they’re an effort to help like-minded candidates obtain public office. At worst, they’re a down payment on favors expected later, whether in the public interest or not. Elections are not supposed to be the same as a product or service priced as high as the market will bear, though many critics feel that’s what they’ve become.
There are a few points to offer in response to this. First, neither of the Clintons were aiming to become post-presidential capitalists. If former presidents and their spouses want to have post-electoral careers on the speaking circuit, Newman’s right — let them earn what the market will bear. However, the Clintons didn’t want a post-electoral career, and all of these firms knew it. As soon as Bill’s term ended, they wanted to return to the White House. They built themselves an independent fortune and tons of political and financial contacts to maximize their chances for success. Goldman Sachs didn’t pay $225,000 a speech to hear Hillary expound on the Tuzla Dash; they saw the Clintons as likely to return to the presidency and wanted to hold some chits when that day came. Newman’s right that this is different than political donations; it’s worse. This puts the money directly in the pockets of the politicians getting bought.
On top of that, Hillary’s not running as a capitalist or as a defender of capitalism. She’s running as a progressive on an explicit class-warfare platform, albeit with a somewhat softer approach than Bernie Sanders. She complains about Wall Street influence after having made millions off of the Clintons’ contacts in the financial industry, and about CEO pay when she and Bill made $57.5 million in four years while serving as Secretary of State. On this, as in so many other areas, Hillary wants to eat her cake and have it, too.
Finally, in the same debate, Hillary claims she’s all about transparency. Yet she used a homebrew e-mail server to thwart constitutional oversight of the State Department by Congress and FOIA actions, and spent years hiding her Wall Street speeches from journalists and voters. It’s as hypocritical and cynical as politics can get.