Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bill, Hillary, and Money

OK, it looks bad. Bill leaves office, cavorts with Ron Burckle and other money guys – we call them “entrepreneurs,” but “money guys” might be more straightforward – and he gets hundreds of thousands of dollars per one-hour talking gig. He also raises hundreds of millions for the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Charity, and there is controversy about how that is handled. Hillary does the same thing, out of office and onto the gravy train. Looks bad.

I was tending to make that judgement myself, not only looks bad, but is bad. Gotta be selling influence. And what are these guys doing, grubbing for money? Is that what they are about? Isn't that some sort of dishonorable pursuit?

That's what I thought, and probably a lot of people have the same, sometimes inchoate thoughts. But now that I think about it while shaving – showers and shaving are undervalued intellectual conditions, nowadays everyone's about meditation, but I'll stick with showers and shaving – I think what they are doing is fine. Here's my reasoning.

Bill and Hillary were public servants, and they were not corrupt. They didn't even shave the edges the way Lyndon Johnson did when he invested Lady Bird's money into a fortune in Texas, which was legal but problematical. They looked and looked at the Clinton's, that great right wing conspiracy that actually existed, and all they could come up with was Whitewater, in which, let's not forget, they lost money, so there was actually a risk. The hundred grand Hillary got from that stockbroker early in their careers, not so untainted, but not a lot of money, either.

So as uncorrupt public officials, they had to forego (is “forewent” a word? I guess so.) significant income for decades, while they were at the absolute top of the system. That is a financial sacrifice. While Hillary's “We were broke” comment was awkward, the sentiment was actually right. They had assets and they had more importantly the prospect of assets, but it was time for them to make some money in 2001. They didn't take a vow of poverty, after all.

So, giving talks for money is honest income. Is Bill's canned speech worth $200,000 or $300,000 a pop? Depends how you look at it. The butchers or bakers or whoever they are have a convention, what's the budget? $2 or 3 million? If they can spend some fraction of that and get Clinton to talk, imagine how much they improve their attendance, imagine the prestige of the organizer, imagine the thrill of being personally addressed by his majesty King Bill, the best 'splainer of his generation. Is it worth it? You bet. You don't have to say that it “buys access,” that he is “selling his soul,” even though there would be some access, sure there would be. But influence? Not so much, really, especially if he is doing a lot of speaking. I have more trouble with talking to Goldman Sachs, actually, or taking big campaign contributions from the moneyed interests. Giving talks to pipefitters? What's wrong with pipefitters? Is that infra dig in some way?

And they had a lot of making up of income to do, if that was what they wanted, and it was. Nothing really wrong with that. How much have they made? They are in the tens of millions, maybe up to 50 or 60 million by now, I guess. A lot of money … but not in Mitt Romney's class! And they did it an honest way, not Mitt's buy'em and raid'em method (OK, Mitt's a low ethical bar, I grant you.)

But remember, in this modern world a lot of entrepreneurs, money-men, make that kind of money for putting together a company or something. It isn't like being a billionaire, even though it's a lot of money. And there are plenty of billionaires, too. But Bill was a two term President of the United States, and some would say the preeminent politician of his age. So I can't see that it's unjustified, if that's what they want to do. And it doesn't dirty them.

The charity? Well, in some way, that was inventing a job for Bill, and he's probably done it well. I don't like the way they have parked political associates there – I'd have to see if they actually did real jobs that were charity related – but after all, in all pursuits, if we have associates whom we trust, we make room for them. Again, there's the payoff issue, and if lots of foreign money came in to keep Hillary's political machine intact, that's a real problem. The Clinton's can always be too clever.

But, to the central question the world is waiting for – actually, “the world” in this case might be me and my own ambivalence about money – I'm giving Bill and Hillary a pass on the way they are making their money, and how much they're making. Talking to groups – the more mundane the better, the more connected to the ordinary non-financial world the better – is just fine with me. And becoming rather wealthy is fine, too. Why not?

Budd Shenkin

No comments:

Post a Comment