The Cut-Rate Clintons: Shades of Irrelevance
5/23/19 at 3:01 PM EDT
The Cut-Rate Clintons
Most of the crowds are still adoring, of course; the Clintons don't even have enough juice to draw many protesters anymore. The crowds on the tour applaud virtually everything both of them say. But the small-scale venues—many were still not sold out—and the cheaper prices speak to the very real cost of exile for the Clintons. Beyond the just-ended tour, their speaking fees have plummeted. After she left her job as secretary of state but before she declared her 2016 candidacy, Hillary used to make $200,000 per speech. In 2014, she spoke at eight different universities and pulled in $1.8 million.
No longer. The head of one prominent public speakers' agency, who didn't want to be quoted on the record, says Hillary's fees have come down sharply—particularly after a couple of post-2016 university speaking engagements (for which she was paid up to $300,000) sparked a fierce backlash. Since then, her fees have been as low as $25,000 or $50,000 per event. A Clinton spokesperson disputed these figures but declined to disclose specific speaking fees.
Bill, because of the current political climate, doesn't do as many solo domestic gigs as before, though he's still in demand abroad, commanding $200,000 or more for foreign engagements. He doesn't do them as often as he used to either—he's had "more than 30" engagements in the last 12 months, according to a spokesman—because physically, an associate says, "he's not up to it." From 2001 to 2015, just before Hillary declared as a candidate, the Clintons made more than $150 million in speaking fees. "Those days are gone," says the associate.
The Clinton Foundation—the philanthropic unit Bill set up after his presidency—has also fallen out of favor now that there is no prospect of the Clintons returning to power. Federal tax filings show donations of $62.9 million in 2016 fell to $26.5 million a year later. A Clinton spokesman said that's "largely" because the annual Clinton Global Initiative Conference was canceled in 2016, and fundraising for the endowment ceased. Republican critics often charged that the foundation was a pay-to-play scheme while Hillary was secretary of state and then a prospective president. But those political charges have become as irrelevant as the Clintons are.
Shades of Irrelevance
Of the two, Hillary retains the higher public profile. She's still doing select TV interviews and some solo speaking engagements. Friends of hers say there was a time following the 2016 election when she didn't know how much to re-engage with the public—if at all. There was—and remains—considerable sentiment among Democratic stalwarts that the woman who lost an election to Trump should just go away. Friends, including former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile, helped coax her out of despair. Brazile says she urged Hillary "to pick her spots, speak up and speak out."
She has done so and, in contrast to Bill, has been gratified that several of the current Democratic contenders have sought her advice on the 2020 campaign. That includes all of the major female candidates—Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand—as well as former Vice President Joe Biden, among others. Jennifer Palmieri, who served as Hillary's communications director in 2016, says she expects Hillary to be "a very visible" presence as the 2020 campaign continues. "She has a lot to contribute and a lot to say, both in private [to other candidates] and in public."
Friends of both Clintons say Hillary has been "warmed" by the amount of sympathy she gets from voters she encounters. "The political pros may still be angry that she lost and think she should stay out of the limelight," says Joe Lockhart, who was Bill's press secretary when he was president, "but a lot of people voted for her enthusiastically, and she has already been reminded of that. She's still a significant voice in American politics."
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