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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Hillary Clinton Got $280,000 for One Speech to Bruce Rauner’s Former Firm

What did she say? She’s not saying, and it may have hurt her in New Hampshire.

Hillary Clinton visits Chicago in 2014.  Photo: Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune

On June 28, 2014, Hillary Clinton, gone more than a year from her job as Obama’s secretary of state and obviously preparing to move back to the White House, traveled to her hometown of Chicago to deliver a speech to GTCR. That’s GTCR, the private equity firm that Bruce Rauner once headed—the “R” stands for Rauner—and that earned him the millions he would use in his successful run for governor.

For that one speech, Hillary was paid $280,000—almost six times the median income for American households.

This wasn’t her only big-money appearance in Chicago. According to her “Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure Report,” covering January 2014 through May 2015, she also spoke to the United Fresh Produce Association ($225,000) and the Advanced Medical Technology Association ($265,000).

Rauner had left GTCR in 2012. I was curious whether he had attended the speech, but email to Rauner’s press secretary was not answered, nor were calls and email seeking further details from GTCR and from Don Walker, president of Hillary’s lecture agency.

If only we knew what she said to those GTCR executives and their clients and investors. For example, did she mention the ugly gubernatorial race that at that moment was pitting Rauner against incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn, for whom Hillary would later campaign in Chicago?

She could easily relieve us of that question by releasing the transcript. She’s in control, after all, as her speaking contract requires the services of a transcriber and makes the transcripts her exclusive property.

When first asked whether she would release transcripts of her speeches, she laughed at the reporter’s question and walked away.

When the questions persisted, she said she would “certainly look into” releasing them.

After that, she said, predictably, that yes, she’d release transcripts of her speeches if every other candidate, including all the Republicans, would do so as well. “Let everybody who’s ever given a speech to any private group under any circumstances release them,” she told ABC. “We’ll all release them at the same time.” (She might not want to include Bernie in that group. In 2014, Sanders’s speechmaking reaped him just $1,867.42 for three speeches. He gave the money to charity.)

Could this evasion be costing her? Not five minutes after the polls closed in New Hampshire last night, media had already declared Bernie Sanders the winner—by double digits. One exit-poll stat stands out: According to CNN, Bernie beat Hillary 93 percent to 5 percent among voters who cite honesty as being the most important quality in a candidate.

Bankrolled

The $280,000 GTCR paid her is a fraction of the fees what Hillary has collected since leaving the State Department. She scooped up $21.6 million between leaving Obama’s cabinet in January 2013 and launching her presidential campaign in April 2015.

Questions about these speeches to groups like GTCR and to such financial giants as Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs have likely cost Hillary many hours of sleep and thousands of votes in Iowa and New Hampshire. “That’s what they offered,” she lamely explained when caught off guard by a question about the propriety of accepting such outsized speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, from which she collected $675,000 for three 2013 speeches.

Meanwhile, her democratic socialist opponent shouts “Break them up!” as he inveighs against the bankers who he says should have been handcuffed, humiliated and hauled off to jail after the 2008 Great Recession.

Wishing the controversies away

Hillary has an uncanny talent for allowing controversies to fester. She clings to the hope they will go away and to the excuse that everyone else does it anyway. Her private-server email controversy has metastasized as she changes the terms of her explanation, apparently hoping that no one will notice. The same goes for the allegations of collusion between her family’s private finances and the Clinton Foundation’s donors, and of foreign donations coming while she was still secretary of state.

The longer she stonewalls on the speech transcripts, the more her critics wonder what’s in them. She claims they’re simply recollections of the tough decisions required of the nation’s chief diplomat—her advice to the president to green-light the raid on Osama bin Laden, for instance—but just yesterday Politico’s Ben White reported that in a 2013 speech to Goldman Sachs “she spoke glowingly of the work the bank was doing raising capital and helping create jobs.” One unidentified person told White that, far from being critical of Wall Street, “she sounded more like a Goldman Sachs managing director.” Not exactly the line she’s delivering as a candidate trying to keep up with the bank-bashing Bernie and promising that she’s going to reform Wall Street, not romance it.

If there’s one constant in the lives of Bill and Hillary Clinton it’s that no matter how much money they accumulate—$153 million in speaking fees since 2001—it’s never enough. Signing on for those quarter-million-dollar speeches when she knew she was going to run for president turns out to be about as smart as complaining to ABC’s Diane Sawyer in June 2014, the month she gave the GTCR speech, that she and her husband had been “dead broke” when they left the White House in 2001.

Should her White House return get derailed, Hillary will hit the speakers circuit again. She’ll probably have to cut her rates a bit—unless she teases the public with yet another run for president in 2020. Bernie is now 74.  In 2020, Hillary will be 72.

Carol Felsenthal is a lifelong Chicagoan and self-proclaimed political junkie. She writes occasionally for Politico Magazine and The Hill. Her books include biographies of Bill Clinton, Katharine Graham, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Among her many stories for Chicago are memorable profiles of Michelle Obama and Bruce Rauner. Follow her on Twitter at @csfelsenthal.

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