Ever since the wealth realized by Bill and Hillary Clinton from their public-speaking events emerged into public view, especially the high-roller lifestyle that gets funded by universities and charities seeking their help, the national media has searched for a context that mitigates it. ABC News finds a shoe-on-the-other-foot case that’s tough to defend. Former President George W. Bush charged $100,000 for an appearance fee and got private-jet travel worth about $20,000 for a charity speaking gig, but it wasn’t just any charity. It was a charity to raise money for veterans wounded in wars that Bush launched in Afghanistan and Iraq:
Former President George W. Bush charged $100,000 to speak at a charity fundraiser for U.S. military veterans severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, and former First Lady Laura Bush collected $50,000 to appear a year earlier, officials of the Texas-based Helping a Hero charity confirmed to ABC News.
The former President was also provided with a private jet to travel to Houston at a cost of $20,000, the officials said.
The charity, which helps to provide specially-adapted homes for veterans who lost limbs and suffered other severe injuries in “the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said the total $170,000 expenditure was justified because the former President and First Lady offered discounted fees and helped raise record amounts in contributions at galas held in 2011 and 2012.
ABC reports that the event raise more than a million dollars, and the charity credits Bush with that success. They also told ABC that Bush cut his usual speaking fee by more than half, although an earlier Politico review puts it at about a 40% reduction from what Bush normally gets. One of the wounded vets on the Helping a Hero charity’s board was less, er, charitable:
“For him to be paid to raise money for veterans that were wounded in combat under his orders, I don’t think that’s right,” said former Marine Eddie Wright, who lost both hands in a rocket attack in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004.
“You sent me to war,” added Wright speaking of the former President. “I was doing what you told me to do, gladly for you and our country and I have no regrets. But it’s kind of a slap in the face.”
Bush does quite a bit to support veterans and their families, usually off the media radar screen, and remains popular with the troops. This particular circumstance seems ill-advised, though. It certainly doesn’t look good, especially when a charity for wounded veterans pays six figures for a former Commander in Chief to appear at a fundraiser and has to get a private jet for his travel, even if it is a discounted speaking fee. People will question why a former president wants twice the annual average household income in America to speak for an hour on behalf of veterans, and it’s not an unfair question. ABC asked Bush to explain, but as of late last night, there was no comment on the story.
Still, this is significantly different than the controversy over the Clinton Foundation and the Clintons’ speaking fees. Bill Clinton got massive speaking fees from entities tied to actions under Hillary Clinton’s purview at State, especially the Uranium One deal but also involving the Colombia trade pact and other actions. The Clinton Foundation took in millions from foreign governments while Hillary’s State Department approved arms sales to them, including chemical arms to the same countries Barack Obama chided for using such weapons to repress Arab Spring protests.
Finally, the Bushes have remained firmly retired from politics since they left the White House. The Clintons have used their foundation and their speaking fees to gain and give favors, peddle influence, and use the real public trust of the State Department and the prospect of the presidency to enrich themselves and regain their grip on power. We can debate the judgment that went into the Helping a Hero payday, but the Clintons’ record of corruption poses a real threat to the integrity of self-governance. If this is getting tossed out as an attempt at moral equivalency, it should get tossed right back in to the media as a challenge to start demanding answers from Bill and Hillary Clinton rather than George W. Bush.