Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made headlines recently when it was reported that Goldman Sachs – the quintessential illustration of the politically influential Wall Street bank — paid her an estimated $400,000 for two speeches. One of the speeches, according to National Review Online, was delivered to Goldman Sach’s annual Alternative Investment Conference. That conference, reports NRO, “explores the latest strategies and products available to financial advisers.” Some might wonder if Clinton discussed the origins of selling the Lincoln bedroom in the White House as an alternative financial strategy, but no transcript of her remarks is available.
The second Goldman Sachs event was the Builders and Innovators Summit, which focused on “entrepreneurship and how to help innovators expand and grow their businesses.” As part of her presentation, Clinton conducted an onstage conversation with Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. For reasons perhaps known only to Clinton and Blankfein, the Wall Street firm refused to provide NRO with an explanation for why she was invited and paid so generously.
Some critics now raise questions about the propriety of a Wall Street firm that depends in so many ways upon political influence to maintain its financial health paying such egregiously large speaking fees to the potential next Oval Office occupant, especially someone who has little or no experience with financial products or entrepreneurship. There are at least two things to be said about these fees, regardless of whether Clinton explains why she accepted them.
First, Clinton is a long-standing advocate of campaign finance reforms intended to minimize the influence of money in politics. As the junior senator from New York, she voted for the granddaddy of such measures, the McCain-Feingold law approved by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush in 2002. To be sure, nothing in McCain-Feingold or subsequent FEC regulations issued under its authority prevents Clinton or any other Washington power player from accepting any amount of money from any organization whatsoever as a speech honorarium. But surely it would be reasonable to hear some explanation from Clinton and Goldman Sachs about why such an enormous amount of money was paid to her for giving speeches, something she does every week, often for free.
Second, the preceding mention of the Lincoln bedroom in the White House was no idle reference. Clinton and her famous husband invited a parade of donors to spend the night in Honest Abe’s former sleeping quarters apparently in return for writing big checks. No matter that it has long been against federal law to raise campaign funds on federal property.
When it came out that Clinton staffers attached dollar figures to at least some prospective occupants of the illustrious bedroom, Clinton’s husband assured everybody that those figures were mere “projections,” not actual price tags. Be that as it may, however, since the Lincoln bedroom and Goldman Sachs speeches are now in the past, Clinton might ask, “At this point, what difference does it make?”