The Washington Post carried an interesting article yesterday about the enormous fees that colleges are paying for the privilege of hearing a speech from Hillary Clinton.
UCLA paid Mrs. Clinton $300,000 — $300,000 — for a speech in March. (According to the Post, UCLA also paid Bill Clinton $250,000 for a speech in 2012.) The University of Connecticut paid $251,250 for a speech from Mrs. Clinton in April, and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas is set to pay $225,000 for a speech in October. Five other schools — the University at Buffalo, Colgate University, and Hamilton College in New York, Simmons College in Massachusetts, and the University of Miami in Florida — also have paid for speeches from Mrs. Clinton but have not disclosed the amounts of the payments. The Post article helpfully notes, however, that her standard speaking fee is $200,000.
This is no surprise from the Clinton standpoint. Hillary Clinton’s ill-advised “dead broke” comments were made in the context of attempting to explain why the Clintons needed to amass a considerable personal fortune, estimated to exceed $100 million, in the 14 years since President Clinton left office. To the extent she is keeping some of the fees for herself — at least two of the big payments, from UCLA and UNLV, apparently are dedicated to the Clinton Foundation — Hillary Clinton may simply feel she needs to further add to that wealth. Or, she may be gearing up for another presidential run and want to add to her personal campaign war chest. Or, she may think she is a hugely important historical and cultural figure who reasonably should be paid outlandish fees to speak at college events. Either way, if colleges are willing to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars her way for a speech, who is she to say no?
What about the colleges, though? Seven of the eight said Mrs. Clinton’s fees were paid by a lecture series endowment or private donations and not through tuition, student fees or public dollars; at UNLV she will be headlining a glittering fundraising event at the Bellagio Casino where school trustees hope her “star power” will boost donations. There’s no doubt that private underwriting is better than using endowment or tuition dollars to pay Mrs. Clinton’s high fees, but there’s still something unseemly about it all. When we constantly hear about the problem of crushing student debt and annual tuition hikes, how can colleges be affiliated with events where any speaker is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars? Has Hillary Clinton suddenly vaulted into the pantheon of compelling public speakers next to Lincoln and Churchill? Or, is it possible that at least part of the decision to agree to pay such amounts to Hillary Clinton was motivated by a desire to curry favor with a person who many think is likely to be the next President of the United States?
The ability of political figures to take a break from public office and immediately be showered with money from colleges and public corporations alike is a deeply troubling reality in modern America. The willingness of colleges to pay a current political figure like Hillary Clinton many multiples of the average annual income of Americans for a single speech, and her willingness to accept such amounts, is just another example.