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Will Clinton's Paid Speaking Events for Goldman Sachs Draw Populist Scorn?

Pocketing big money from paid speaking events is nothing new, but neither is the revolving door between Wall Street and the heights of Washington power

Jon Queally

Potentially raising eyebrows for those concerned about the influential role of large financial firms on current (or possibly future) elected officials, former Senator and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has given a pair of reportedly 'lucrative' talks for an audience of Goldman Sachs employees and their clients in recent days.

Clinton, regarded as a likely top contender for the Democratic nominee for president in 2016, is said to receive approximately $200,000 for her paid speaking engagements, leading the National Review to report that "she likely netted around $400,000 for her paid gigs at Goldman" that took place on Thursday, October 24 and Tuesday, October 29.

According the National Review:

Last Thursday, Clinton spoke for the AIMS Alternative Investment Conference hosted by Goldman Sachs, a closed event exclusively for Goldman clients. AIMS is an annual conference that explores the latest strategies and products available to financial advisers. At the event, Clinton offered what one attendee described to me as “prepared remarks followed by questions.”

On Tuesday, Clinton spoke at the Builders and Innovators Summit, devoted to discussing entrepreneurship and how to help innovators expand and grow their businesses. According to Politico, Clinton conducted a question-and-answer session with Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Goldman Sachs declined to comment on the subject of her remarks or why Mrs. Clinton in particular was invited to the events.

As the the New York Times reported this summer, Clinton has been using her impressive government resume to garner large speaking fees since leaving her post at the State Department earlier this year:

For about $200,000, Mrs. Clinton will offer pithy reflections and Mitch Albom-style lessons from her time as the nation’s top diplomat. (“Leadership is a team sport.” “You can’t win if you don’t show up.” “A whisper can be louder than a shout.”)

She sticks around for handshakes and picture-taking, but the cost of travel, and whether a private jet is provided, must be negotiated as part of her fee.

The $200,000 she commands appears to be comparable to what Bill Clinton receives for speeches delivered in this country, though Mr. Clinton — who earned $17 million from speeches last year — has collected much more outside the United States.

Though none of the reporting on Clinton's recent engagements presume there is anything wrong with former governmental official plying the 'talking circuit' in order to leverage their political experience, the financial transaction between a possible presidential candidate and one of the most powerful investment banks in the country will undoubtedly reinforce the troubling idea that a revolving door exists between Wall Street and Washington.

In the particular case of Clinton, as executive editor of The Nation Richard Kim recently argued, the idea that a figure so enmeshed in the world of the economic and political elite could adequately deliver the populist solutions the nation now so badly needs is absurd.

According to Kim's assessment, it would be "hard to imagine a Democrat of national stature more ill-equipped to speak" to the "populist mood" of the country than the former Secretary of State.  He writes:

Yes, her tenure at State gave her the rehabilitating Texts From Hillary Clinton Tumblr and the thickest diplomatic passport the world has ever known, but a taste for class warfare it most certainly did not. To wit: her decision to house her post-cabinet, pre-campaign apparatus at the foundation her husband started, now rechristened the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. The organization, and the related Clinton Global Initiative, carries some lofty intentions—planting trees in sub-Saharan Africa, empowering women and girls, treating HIV and malaria, and saving endangered elephants. But as Alec MacGillis captured in a devastating feature for The New Republic, it also serves as a kind of global plutocrats’ social club—a Davos on the Hudson where corporate executives pledge millions for the privilege of rubbing elbows with celebrities and world leaders.

Citing the Clinton's gold-plated rolodex—which includes "billionaires and corporate giants like Walmart, Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, Mike Bloomberg, Hollywood mogul Steve Bing and Paychex chairman Tom Golisano"—Kim acknowledged that though Hillary may not

"solicit the advice of all these folks," she will almost surely "solicit their donations."

"And once she does," he asks, "how keen will she be to tell them that their gains are ill gotten, that they’ll need to pay more, not in tax-deductible charitable contributions, but in taxes?"

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