Today the LA Times’ Evan Halper reminds us that the rich don’t live the same as you and I — even the “dead broke” rich. Halper goes all the way back to 2002, near the start of the Clintons’ careers as highly paid public speakers, to paint a picture of both avarice and what some might call “extreme carelessness” with other people’s money. Bill Clinton was a “game changer” for the speaking circuit, even among former presidents:
When former presidents and other dignitaries traveled to California to wax nostalgic on the speaking circuit, they may have been demanding, but none insisted on being flown from San Francisco by private jet to a venue just 70 miles down the freeway.
That was before Bill Clinton came along.
It wasn’t just the extraordinarily high fees that the Clintons demanded for their appearances; it was the conditions they set, and the demands for expenses that they made:
The events took place as part of a speaker series sponsored by the Foothill Deanza Community College District, another by UC Davis and another run by a for-profit firm. The community college hosted him again in 2012. The documents became public through an open-records request filed by the Republican National Committee amid a presidential race in which the lucrative speaking fees paid to the Clintons are being closely examined.
They show a former president who deftly avoided discussing past scandals by refusing questions that were not screened by his staff in advance. There is the nearly $1,400 bill for a day’s worth of phone calls from San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel and the $700 dinner for two. And they also show that an agency representing Clinton continued to pursue a deal with an event host who emailed a racist remark about audiences and jokingly referred to the male aides Clinton traveled with as his mistresses.
In 2002, cell phones were not quite as ubiquitous as they are today, but one assumes that even a “dead broke” former President and a sitting US Senator would have one. Why make calls from the hotel phone? One has to wonder how many calls Clinton would have had to make to ring up a bill like that, and whether those were in service to generating even more income for himself. It’s not as though Clinton was hitting a slow patch in his speaking career; he made six speeches in the course of a week for the schools, grossing $600,000, Halper reports.
For that matter, what could the Clintons have eaten that would cost $350 apiece to their hosts? San Francisco doesn’t come cheap, but come on, man. Talk about contempt for their clients. Didn’t Bill’s $600K give him enough resources to buy his own fancy dinner?
Let’s talk about contempt for their audiences, too. The contracts showed that the Clintons didn’t want tough questions thrown their way, or any questions they didn’t want asked. They demanded prior approval on questions asked in the forum, a demand that “has never happened before or since” with other former presidents, said Richard Henning, the man who ran the series for the community-college district.
That even led to interventions during the event. Clinton complained that the questions he was getting were too dull, and asked Henning to pose some meatier questions. He responded by challenging Clinton on the pardon of Marc Rich:
As Clinton was delivering a fiery response, according to Henning’s emails, Clinton advisor Doug Band “came out on to the stage, whacked me on the back and said, ‘Get him off the stage; he is dying out there.’”
It doesn’t sound as if Clinton’s team had much confidence in his ability to answer critics, eh? All this also points out another obvious conclusion — all this, including the launching of the Clinton Foundation, was nothing more than the first steps toward a return to the White House. Why would a former president care about a simple community-college Q&A session otherwise? Why else would Band have panicked at a question about Marc Rich?
The contempt figures into this, too. The Clintons believed that they could keep people in the dark about their records and their purposes simply by controlling their public events and lock critics out. Unfortunately for everyone, this contempt turned out to be … justified.