Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is drawing a populist bead on lavish Wall Street pay packages as she revs up her march to the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, but in some respects the fat-per-speech fee she can charge puts her far ahead of the top 10 highest-paid American CEOs.
"I think it's fair to say that if you look across the country, the deck is stacked in favor of those already at the top. There's something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the American worker...," Clinton said during her first campaign swing last week at an Iowa community college.
Bashing Wall Streeters is part of Clinton's strategy of remaking her image to appear more sympathetic to middle class voters, while also appealing to left-wing Democrats who are attracted to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and the even more radical supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist who talks of seeking the 2016 nomination.
Clinton's reported premium speaking fee of $300,000 per speech pales by comparison to the $131.2 million paid to McKesson CEO John Hammergren, but, depending upon how the data is calculated, there is more — and less — that meets the eye in Clinton's assault on Wall Street compensation.
Clinton gives more than one paid speech per year, just as corporate CEOs typically receive their total compensation from multiple sources like stock options, pension contributions and salary. This means a fairer comparison is to look at Clinton and the top 10 CEOs by calculating their total compensation divided by the Department of Labor standard of 2,080 work-hours in a year, as in the nearby chart.
On that basis, the CEOs are pikers compared to an hour of Clinton speaking for $300,000. Hammergren, for example, makes only $63,076 for the same hour of labor. Clothing magnate Ralph Lauren, the second best-paid CEO on the Forbes list receives $32,067. Vornado Realty's Michael Fasitelli, the third-place CEO, gets $30,961 per hour.
The per-hour average for the CEOs is $54,213, or about one-sixth of Clinton's $300,000 premium speaking fee.
Clinton's time on the public speaking circuit, however, involves more than merely talking in front of a crowd for an hour and then walking away with a check. She has to get to and from the speech location, prepare her remarks, get some sleep and eat some food. Those expenses must be covered by the hosting organization, but each hour of her time is irreplaceable.
Assuming that the $300,000 is paid for a 24-hour chunk of Clinton's time instead of one-hour changes the CEO comparison figures dramatically. On that basis, she is paid $12,500 per hour, or roughly one-fifth the per-hour CEO average of $54,213.
The gap between Clinton and the CEO average closes somewhat if a 12-hour time period is assumed, giving her an hourly rate of $25,000. The gap closes even more if she only requires four hours to complete a speech commitment, with the hourly rate ballooning to $75,000, or $20,007 above the CEO average.
The numbers change even more if it is assumed Clinton delivers one speech per week for 48 weeks during a typical year, for a total annual compensation of $14.4 million and just under $7,000 per hour.
Further complicating any comparison of Clinton's compensation with those earned at the highest reaches of the Fortune 500 is the fact that the former secretary of state and first lady claims to donate her speaking fees to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, a $2 billion tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charitable Goliath that provides a formidable base of operations for the family business.
It's not clear if Clinton has donated all of her public speaking fees to the foundation or whether such contributions result in a tax deduction for the Clintons. Neither foundation spokesman Craig Minassian nor Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill responded to Washington Examiner questions for this story.
Another aspect of Clinton's decision to run against Wall Street lies in the area of taxes. Wealthy corporate CEOs pay top tax lawyers and accountants to protect as much of their income as possible from the tax man via tax shelters, loopholes and other financial devices.
Clinton is no different, at least according to the Republican National Committee, which issued a reminder earlier this week pointing to a June 17, 2014, Bloomberg report that, as a New York senator and presidential candidate, Clinton opposed repeal of the estate tax even as she and the former president acted like long-time members of the top 1 percent.
"To reduce the tax pinch, the Clintons are using financial planning strategies befitting the top 1 percent of U.S. households in wealth. These moves, common among multimillionaires, will help shield some of their estate from the tax that now tops out at 40 percent of assets upon death. The Clintons created residence trusts in 2010 and shifted ownership of their New York house into them in 2011, according to federal financial disclosures and local property records," Bloomberg reported.
To put it all in perspective, however, the U.S. Census Bureau reported last September that the median annual household income — counting all of a household's income, not just individuals — was $51,939 in 2013, the most recent year for which data was available.
In other words, the average U.S. household makes slightly less in a year — $51,939 — than the average top 10 CEO makes in an hour —$54,213 — and vastly less than Clinton has been paid for one speech — $300,000.
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Mark Tapscott is executive editor of the Washington Examiner.