These days a whole lot of money is being spent in anticipation that not only will Hillary Rodham Clinton be the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee but she ultimately will win the nation’s highest office.
In the process of going from “dead broke” (her words) to quite wealthy, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state has talked and written her way into an amazing number of pocketbooks, charging at times more than a quarter-million dollars per speech. It does appear a bit extravagant if not downright unseemly for a college or university these days to pay such amazing fees to hear a speech that is unlikely to give us much new political insight.
At least it does to a growing number of students hard pressed to pay for the constantly skyrocketing cost of higher education and facing years of debt because of the loans they needed to finance it. A number of them have launched protests, and even her campus fans seem to think that this may not be a good, defensible use of difficult-to-come-by college resources, especially by state institutions that always are looking for funds to stay up with competitive demands and steadily increasing faculty costs.
Clinton’s average fee is a cool $200,000 per appearance and can run as high as $300,000. Justifying this amount can be tricky even when the money is not coming directly from the institution’s treasury but is being raised through direct donations or charges at the gate to hear her.
The Washington Post recently estimated that she has collected at least a tidy $1.8 million from college appearances in the past nine months. Not bad for a politician who is just contemplating another run for the presidency. Will Rogers in 1932 cut short an introduction of Franklin D. Roosevelt because he said he wasn’t going to waste much time or money on a mere candidate for the White House.
This fall as the deadline approaches for a decision on her presidential plans, Clinton is scheduled to headline a fundraising gala sponsored by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Foundation. Clinton’s fee for the UNLV extravaganza is expected to be fully covered by seats at the Bellagio hotel and casino that cost $200 each and tables of 10 that run from $3,000 each to $20,000. Seems kind of pricey until you remember this is Las Vegas and that the school paid her former president husband $250,000 for a speech two years ago.
The amounts paid to her from the University of California, Los Angeles ($300,000) and from the University of Connecticut ($250,000) come as yearly tuition increases have driven college costs at elite schools unceasingly skyward. Many have now reached the $60,000 annual level that Democrats deplore; they have made affordable higher education a plank in their national policy.
Ironically, if Clinton decides to run, which at this point seems likely, the schools probably with a little effort could get her to appear on their campuses for free. Colleges always are popular sites for political rallies, especially at a time when politicians work overtime to connect with young voters.
What is the value of spending so much money for a speech that isn’t expected to cut much new ground? It isn’t as though Clinton is tough to see or that her positions aren’t well known — just turn on your television set or your iPad or open your newspaper.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are now estimated to be worth more than $100 million, a neat sum for the down-and-outers of 2000 who left the White House in somewhat of a shambles and claimed to have faced massive debt. Right.
P.T. Barnum’s New York exhibition hall got so crowded he couldn’t get any new customers in, so he put a sign over the door that said “Egress.” Customers eagerly went to see this new animal and found themselves outside. Perhaps colleges should consider that Clinton’s fees are not only outlandish but a bit like Barnum’s egress, ultimately leading to empty air.
It’s going to be an issue for her, especially among those who are struggling to earn enough money to finance college and pay off the massive debt afterward. It’s not a good image for Clinton or the schools.
Dan K. Thomasson, a Hoosier native and Franklin College trustee, is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.