Hillary Clinton’s Paid Speeches to Wall Street Animate Her Opponents
From the New York Times
Nine months after leaving the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton sat on a stage under the life-size model of a blue whale that hangs in the American Museum of Natural History.
For a fee of $275,000, she had agreed to appear before the clients of GoldenTree Asset Management, the capstone of a lucrative speechmaking sprint through Wall Street that earned her more than $2 million in less than seven months.
Mrs. Clinton said the Dodd-Frank rules, while unpopular among some on Wall Street, were a necessary response to the financial crisis, according to one person who attended, while making clear she viewed Wall Street as a partner in securing the country’s economic future, not an enemy. We have to win together, she said, not divide ourselves.
The attacks have become one of Mr. Sanders’s biggest applause lines in Iowa, where the median household earns about $52,229 a year. And Republican strategists are testing how to turn Mrs. Clinton’s speaking fees against her in an election defined by rising economic inequality and stagnant middle-class wages. Even some of her supporters are questioning the wisdom of accepting the fees when she knew she might run for the presidency again.
Mrs. Clinton has sought to parry Mr. Sanders by highlighting her support for tighter regulation and comparing herself to President Obama, who took millions of dollars in campaign contributions from Wall Street but went on to enact some of the furthest-reaching financial regulations in decades.
But the new attacks strike at what even some allies believe may be one of Mrs. Clinton’s biggest vulnerabilities: not her positions on financial regulation, but her personal relationships with Wall Street executives, along with the millions of dollars Mrs. Clinton, her husband, and their family foundation have accepted in speaking fees or charitable contributions from banks, hedge funds and asset managers. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama has never earned speaking fees from Wall Street.
“The reason that Bernie is focusing on the speaking fees is that Hillary can’t use the Obama defense,” said Ed Rendell, a former Pennsylvania governor, who has supported Mrs. Clinton.
In retrospect, Mr. Rendell conceded, Mrs. Clinton would have been better off giving fewer such speeches.
“Although they needed money, I think that Bill was raking in enough that Hillary didn’t have to do it,” Mr. Rendell said. “To people who earn $200,000 in seven years, it looks ridiculous.”
Together, Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have earned in excess of $125 million in speech income since leaving the White House in 2001, one-fifth of it in the last two years.
Mrs. Clinton’s own speechmaking was a veritable tour through high finance. She gave paid speeches at GTCR, the Chicago private equity firm that the Republican governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, helped found; Deutsche Bank, the German financial services conglomerate; and the investment bank Morgan Stanley, among other companies.
Goldman Sachs alone paid Mrs. Clinton $675,000 for three speeches in three different states, a fact Mr. Sanders has highlighted repeatedly.
“Goldman Sachs also provides very, very generous speaking fees to some unnamed candidates,” he told voters at a winery in Carroll, Iowa, on Tuesday.
In highlighting Mrs. Clinton’s ties to Wall Street, Mr. Sanders is tapping into suspicion that remains potent in both parties years after the last Occupy Wall Street tents disappeared from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan. Donald J. Trump, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, has mocked hedge fund managers as “guys that shift paper around” and “get lucky.” Other Republicans have likewise sought to tap into popular discontent with Wall Street, blaming the Dodd-Frank legislation for letting “the big banks get bigger and bigger and bigger,” as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, another Republican presidential candidate, put it last fall.
Sensitive to the sour public mood, Mrs. Clinton has layered her own speeches with calls to reduce income inequality and overhaul the country’s “rigged” economic system. In what was billed as a major economic speech before a Wall Street audience in July, Mrs. Clinton called for expanding Dodd-Frank and denounced fraud in the financial sector.
Dennis M. Kelleher, the president of Better Markets, a financial industry watchdog group, said Mr. Sanders appeared intent on opening a new front on the issue of financial regulation.
“He’s got a plan, and she put out a plan. Your eyes glaze over,” said Mr. Kelleher. With his attacks on Mrs. Clinton’s speaking fees, Mr. Kelleher said, Mr. Sanders was trying to “get out of the fight over whose plan is better.”
Mr. Sanders’s line of attack is now being bolstered by an unlikely ally: American Crossroads, the conservative “super PAC” advised by the prominent Republican strategist Karl Rove. In recent days, the group has run digital advertisements in Iowa questioning Mrs. Clinton’s Wall Street ties — even though several hedge fund billionaires are among the top donors to Crossroads.
“Wall Street made her a multimillionaire,” the ad, titled “Hillary’s Bull Market,” asserts. “Does Iowa really want Wall Street in the White House?”
On Wednesday, the group escalated its attacks, targeting Mrs. Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea Clinton, who in her 20s worked for a New York-based hedge fund run by a Clinton friend and campaign donor, Marc Lasry.