Observations On The George W. Bush Speaking Fee Controversy

Paying George to speak is a little like paying Hillary to tell the truth...

Paying George to speak is a little like paying Hillary to tell the truth…

Former President George W. Bush was paid a speakers fee of $100,000 to address a charity fundraiser for U.S. military veterans severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The  Texas-based Helping a Hero charity also confirmed  that W. was also provided with a private jet to travel to Houston at a cost of $20,000.

Observations:

  • Neither the former President, nor anyone, is obligated to donate his time and effort any time a charity whistles, regardless of its worthy mission. He is also within his rights to charge whatever he chooses: nobody has to pay it.Would it be an ethical act to donate that fee back to the charity, or waive it entirely? Sure. Is it unethical not to do so? Of course not.
  • Why is this story suddenly all over the news and internet? Why, to protect Hillary Clinton, of course. This is another res ipsa loquitur example of the news media acting like Democratic Party operatives. They are trying an “everybody does it” excuse for Hillary’s greed; in turn, the former President’s defnders counter with #22, “It’s not the worst thing.”
  • “For him to be paid to raise money for veterans that were wounded in combat under his orders, I don’t think that’s right,” former Marine Eddie Wright, who lost both hands in a rocket attack in Iraq in 2004, complained to ABC News “You sent me to war. I was doing what you told me to do, gladly for you and our country and I have no regrets. But it’s kind of a slap in the face.” I’m sympathetic, but the argument is absurd. Wright was soldier, and had his duty; Bush was Commander-in-Chief, and had his. Wright wasn’t doing Bush a favor, and Bush owes him no more and no less than any other American. Wright’s argument would obligate Bush to appear, on demand, free of charge to every military and veterans group, or be accused, variously, of playing favorites, not properly respecting non-wounded veterans, and dozens of other equally unavoidable complaints.
  • Is $100,000 an unreasonable speaker’s fee for a former President? Well, if his presence on the dais raises a lot more than that, and the charity seems to think it does, then from a strictly economic standpoint, it is not unreasonable, nor unethical for him to charge it, nor unethical for a charity to pay it.

  • The comparison doesn’t make Hillary look good, though. Bush is criticized for charging 100 grand to a charity that still makes a profit off of his appearance; Hillary charges 2.5 times that—did you know that she was never President?—to non-profit colleges that pass the costs on to students. If he’s wrong, she’s far more wrong.
  • I don’t approve of millionaires charging non-profits and charities six figure speaking fees, and I don’t approve of the organizations paying them. It’s crass, and it’s greedy, and it looks awful. I acknowledge, however, that market theory holds that what a customer will voluntarily pay for a commodity is not an unfair price. I would charge about $2500 dollars, or a bit less, for a one hour speech. I’m pretty sure I can convey more of substantive value than an hour of Hillary-blather (see the previous post)–but then, who couldn’t?—but is a former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State worth a hundred times more as an attraction, in publicity and in prestige than an unknown lawyer/ethicist/blogger/ stage director who will die in obscurity, mocked, unmourned and forgotten?

24 thoughts on “Observations On The George W. Bush Speaking Fee Controversy

  1. Spot on except for this part:

    “…This is another res ipsa loquitur example of the news media acting like Democratic Party operatives…”

    They don’t “act like” party operatives. They ARE party operatives.

    • “(I)s a former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State worth a hundred times more as an attraction, in publicity and in prestige …?”

      Let’s put it this way: if it meant you would have to BE her — now think hard! — mentally, physically, socially, politcally and ethically — for just the length of the speech (a matter of mere minutes), how much would that be worth? I mean, can you count that high?

    • No because he isn’t rationalizing either of their behaviors. As he poses it, it is a test of bias.

      If anyone complains about Bush, they’d better for sure complain about Hillary, because hers IS worse.

      If anyone protects Hillary, they better for sure protect Bush, because his is not as intense as hers.

      • It’s only a rationalization IF Jack says “Bush’s conduct is ok because Hillary’s was worse” or “Bush’s conduct is excusable because Hillary’s is worse”

        As is, it’s a razor that cuts the hypocrites from the consistent.

  2. Well, I won’t forget your site, even if I don’t always agree. On this one, yeah, I have long thought that hiring ‘marquee’ guests for fundraising seems more like extortion for the charity recipients. Some compensation is appropriate, but all I can think of is how much more could be done with the 100-250k used as a fee for people who don’t need that much. They are past the struggling period that the charities are supposed to be helping people through.

    • It complex.

      If famous person X decides to give speeches for free at charity A, then charities, B, C and D and others will begin asking for help. Flooded, Famous person X inevitably has to say no.

      Now, famous person X is the person who said no to “orphan kids” or no to “crippled animals” or no to “cancer research”.

      • For some reason, this discussion reminded me of a TV episode of Superman, when he appeared on the air to support a telethon or something – some charity – and of course the needed dollars came in.

          • Of course, what you say is true, Tex, but of course that was not what caused me to think of the Superman episode. Superman was not blackmailing anyone. His appearance before the public in that particular venue lent credibility to the validity and urgency of the cause, thus inducing a wave of charitable support. We can only hope Dubya’s appearance to speak will bring in far more than the $100k that was paid out to him.

            • I think it was implicit in the TV show that Superman showed up just to show his support (and maybe, so that he could talk a little to encourage donations), and he was neither expecting, nor accepting, nor being offered any fee.

              • I vaguely rememb.er that episode. That may be another reason why I don’t like big payments, it seems a conflict of interest to rake a big fee that benefits you instead of the cause you’re promoting. Does the celeb believe in the cause, or are they a shill? (celebs in ads raise the same question of how much is real and how mich is acting.

      • There are too many worthy causes, so charging a fee thins out the askers to something manageable. I could start a charity to help fund post-divorce psychiatric care with massage for cats and dogs, and then hire my fav celeb to help fundraise if it was cheap, but that doesn’t mean anything good will come of it.

        I really think some celebs are in it for the cash and attention. That they get away with excessively huge fees says as much or more about the charity’s pragmatism about paying or the gullible audience. This goes beyond the value of a celeb bringing attention to a cause they also believe in and compensation as an actor for a PSA.The issue is that they are making more for a short speech or appearance than most people make in a year and more than many charities have. I WANT the vet, or the college fund or whatever the charity is to get my donation, not some rich celeb for an evening of their time.

        • Of course, maybe we’re looking at this entirely backwards. Is it ethical to ask a famous person to pitch on your behalf?

          Even knowing, in a free market, it is their right to say yes or no, there is a element of “it’s for a good cause, you don’t want to say ‘no’ to a good cause, do you” coercion, isn’t there?

            • Yeah, but the agent handles the nut and bolts, but I’d hope the celeb has given then guidelines and may override if it is a pet cause. A celeb still has limited time just like the rest of us and should =not be guilted if they won’t support every good cause that asks. And a celeb who supports ten causes isn’t going to do as much for any one of them and might never sleep either.

              An agent would be a necessary gatekeeper, especially for causes that don’t already link the the celeb’s personal life.

  3. It seems to me that Bush is caught between a rock and a hard place. I believe that does care about wounded vets. However, if he was to charge much less everybody with a good cause would want him as a former president to do a talk for their organization. Maybe, he just should have bought some air time or agreed to be interviewed by Megan Kelly and he he could have expressed his concern about the treatment of vets in VA programs.

  4. So, if Chelsea Clinton’s presence (I think you said she was paid $65,000) attracted a lot more donations that otherwise would have been received, then it is perfectly acceptable for her to take that speaking engagement, correct?

  5. You just lost me as a reader. I don’t like Hillary and wish a much better alternative would win. And as an ethics professor I read your stuff daily. But you have become a one note Hillary basher and compromised your disinterest. So long

    • Hillary is running for President, the news media is enabling a corrupt campaign, and too many of the public are shrugging off her ethical vacuum. I have a duty to keep explaining why she is corrupt, and the fact that her candidacy threatens to corrupt the nation and the political values it represents. Sorry, I’m not going to apologize for doing my job, which is to clarify an ongoing ethics train wreck.

      The Clintons count on people like you, who get tired of thinking about their machinations, so they shrug it all off, and tell everyone else to “move on.” What are you doing to explain why this candidacy is so steeped in lies and corruption? My interest is in not letting Machiavellian frauds run the US government, and in urging the public to stop tolerating corrupt leaders, from either party—I’m sorry that bores you, but the battle goes on. If a post helps clarify the matter for one more citizen, I’ll risk alienating the occasional reader who already gets it. This isn’t just an academic exercise. I guess that escaped your notice.

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