Bill and Hillary Clinton have made millions of dollars in recent years speaking to audiences at Wall Street’s most influential firms. But journalists were noticeably absent from those gatherings.
The former secretary of state’s every word is intensely analyzed for clues about what she would do if she were elected president in 2016, so what she tells the nation’s financial wizards is crucial to understanding how she would handle the world’s largest economy.
But journalists won’t be in the room as long as Hillary Clinton relies on the speaking contract used by her agent, the Harry Walker Agency, a copy of which the Washington Examiner obtained from the sponsor of one of the events she addressed.
That contract said: “Speaker’s participation at the event including the speech and reception will be closed to the press, unless otherwise agreed in writing.”
The contract also ruled out press conferences or statements and bans recordings by anyone, saying, “It is understood and agreed that recording the speaker’s remarks for any purpose, including the sponsor is not permitted.”
The Harry Walker Agency did not return numerous calls from the Examiner seeking comment. Hillary Clinton’s spokesman also did not respond to an Examiner request for comment, and spokesmen for the Wall Street firms all declined to discuss specific provisions of her speaking contract.
Hillary Clinton’s first off-the-record address came on April 30, 2013, only three months after she left the State Department. The event was held at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla., where she addressed 300 Fidelity private-equity clients.
Most of the audience was comprised of clients who use the company's custody and clearing units, which administer more than $1 trillion in combined assets, according to Fidelity.
A Fidelity spokesman told the Examiner that Hillary Clinton approved making it a “private event” with no press or cameras.
On June 4, 2013, she traveled to Los Angeles to speak to KKR, the private equity firm. Henry Kravis, the firm’s co-founder, reportedly fielded questions for Clinton. A KKR spokesman confirmed that reporters were barred from her speech.
On Sept. 9, 2013, she spoke at the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based private equity firm. Carlyle co-founder David Rubenstein moderated the event. A spokesman for the firm told the Examiner that reporters were denied entry to the event.
In October 2013, Hillary Clinton attended two separate events for Goldman Sachs. The first was in Los Angeles at an Alternative Investment Management Symposium exclusively for clients of the investment bank.
The next week, she appeared in New York at a Builders and Innovators Summit moderated by Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein. A Goldman Sachs spokesman said both events were off-limits to reporters.
It’s not just Wall Street events that are closed by Hillary Clinton. Journalists were also barred when she spoke to the Global Business Travel Association, National Association of Convenience Stores, Vancouver Board of Trade’ Women’s Leadership Circle, and the Society for Human Resource Management.
John Hollon, editor-in-chief of TNLT.com, a human resources trade publication, said he was astonished when he learned reporters were barred from the human resources meeting. “Something like this pops up and makes you wonder, ‘What could they be thinking?’ ”
Elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, astonishment turned to anger when the Vancouver Board of Trade told reporters that Hillary Clinton had barred them from covering her March 5 speech to a women's leadership event.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Joel Connelly titled his Feb. 28 column, “Hillary Clinton to NW media: Go to hell.”
Connelly reported that a Board of Trade official wrote to reporters saying, “Hillary Clinton’s office has advised us that there will be no media accreditation or special media access for this speech. As part of our contract with her office, this will be a private speaking engagement. There will also not be any streaming of the speech.”
Hillary Clinton doesn’t always bar journalists from her speeches. Media coverage was allowed when she spoke to the U.S. Green Building Council, the United Fresh Produce Association, the National Automobile Dealers Association and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.
Ellen Miller, co-founder and former executive director of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, said closed speeches are “inappropriate” when a public figure such as Hillary Clinton is involved.
“It’s very concerning when someone is generally regarded as a potential presidential candidate to have all of these speeches off the public record,” Miller said.
Miller also wondered why some events were open and others closed, saying, “Inconsistent application of this closed, no-press policy also raises questions. What are her criteria for open meetings versus closed ones?”
Roger Hickey, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, said Hillary Clinton's private meetings don’t bother him but he still would like to know what she was saying to the titans of Wall Street.
“Obviously I would like to know what she’s saying to those groups, and it does raise questions that she has to clarify about what she believes about the power of big money, and the politics and the regulation of Wall Street," he said.
Former President Clinton has delivered many more private speeches than his wife. Between March 2010 and December 2013 he spoke at 119 closed events compared to 77 that were open forums, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by nonprofit group Judicial Watch.
The list of the former president’s off-limit speeches reads like a who's who of American financial institutions: Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Barclays Capital, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, the Carlyle Group, TD Bank Financial Group, UBS Wealth Management, Wells Fargo, Deloitte & Touche and PricewaterhouseCoopers.