Ethics Observations On Barack Obama’s $596,000 Speaking Fee

A report from El Tiempo, a Colombian news outlet, states that former President Barack Obama will recieve “2 mil millones de pesos” for delivering a speech engaging in an  on-stage discussion about leadership strategies at the EXMA Conference in Bogota. Obama’s fee is the equivalent of $594,000 in U.S. dollars

The Colombian news website Publicmetro.co, further reports that conference attendees who want to attend the event and take a photo with Obama will pay 11 million Colombian pesos, or about $3,267.

Ethics Observations: Continue reading

Ethics Q & A On Obama’s Speaking Fees

Former President Barack Obama received a $400,000 speaking fee for an appearance at an A&E Network event  yesterday, just as controversy was building over Obama accepting the same fee to appear at a Wall Street firm’s conference.

What’s going on here?

The ex-President is cashing in, that’s what’s going on here. This has become standard operating procedure for former POTUSes, beginning with Gerald Ford, who was showered with criticism by Democrats and the news media for signing with the William Morris agency and picking up what was at the time considered obscene speaking fees from corporations and foreign governments. Ford’s fees are dwarfed by Obama’s, but then Barack is a much better speaker than the late President Ford was. (Almost anyone is.)

Jimmy Carter showed admirable restraint by not devoting his post-Presidency to enriching himself off of his years in office, but Ronald Reagan took some mega-fees to speak abroad. The Clintons, as we know too well, instantly went from rags to riches by selling their celebrity, an exercise that was especially dubious because Hillary was on the rise. Obama’s speaking fees are just one more step along the cashing-in path that both he and Michelle had already begun traveling with the astounding 65 million dollar deal the couple signed to write their biographies.

Some questions and answers on the ethics of Obama’s payday:

1.  Is Obama ‘s acceptance of all this money ethical?

In a vacuum, it’s hard to argue that it isn’t. He set a fee, and someone is willing to pay it. Hillary’s fee was $250,000; if she can get that much for her dry-as-toast delivery as a former Senator, Secretary of State and First Lady, Obama’s a bargain at $400,000. As a private citizen, he has the same right any of us do to sell his books and speeches at whatever the market will bear.

I, for example, get $37.56 for an hour long speech, and am glad to get it..

2. But it isn’t in a vacuum, right?

Right. Obama still has power and influence; he still promises to be a voice in the Democratic party. He’s not exactly a private citizen, and no ex-President is. Taking such a large payment from a Wall Street firm, after all of Obama’s rhetoric (and that of Bernie Sanders, the non-Democrat now being paraded as a leader of the Democratic party) condemning Wall Street has the decided whiff of hypocrisy about it. Not only, that, but as with Hillary Clinton and Bill, the payment of such jaw-dropping amounts for minimal service natural raises questions of pay-offs. Obama’s administration famously sought no criminal sanctions for Wall Street executives despite their  role in what Obama called “driving the economy into a ditch.” How do we know this wasn’t part of an installment payment to Obama for services already rendered, a quid pro quo? We don’t.

It is also hard to make sense out of those fees if they aren’t paying for something more than an hour long speech.

3. So these fees create “the appearance of impropriety?” Continue reading

New Hampshire Reflections: Let’s Leave Aside The E-Mail And The Lies For Now: Hillary’s Reaction To Adversity Shows She Is Unfit To Lead

I freely admit that it is unfair to use unflattering photos like this, which Drudge is featuring today. But it made me laugh, and maybe it will brighten someone else's day.

I freely admit that it is unfair to use unflattering photos like this, which Drudge is featuring today. But it made me laugh, and maybe it will brighten someone else’s day.

Preface: I’m not going to bother pointing out the obvious about Trump and his supporters, nor harp on the fact that the man used both “fuck” and “pussy” in recent speeches. Nothing has changed regarding the national embarrassment of his ugly candidacy, nor the utter idiocy of anyone who would be willing to have him by the face of the United States of America. If there are any readers here who support him, they have the good sense to sit silently in the Ethics Alarms cellar with Justice Scalia’s metaphorical bag over their heads. This post remains the verdict on Trump here. It’s five months old, and nothing has changed. Please circulate it to your dumbest friends.

Most of the Ethics Alarms posts about Hillary Clinton’s atrocious ethics and untrustworthy character have focused on her influence peddling, her conflicts of interest, her hypocrisy and her dishonesty. I keep hearing and reading desperate Democrats nonetheless rationalizing their supporting Clinton because of her alleged competence. We are seeing, right now, how she responds to adversity, stress, competition and crisis. What we are seeing isn’t competence by any definition.  Hillary is showing the nation  that under pressure and in crisis, she becomes angry, stonewalls, jettisons principle and ethics, and makes panicky, ill-considered statements and decisions, and defaults to “the ends justify the means.”

Exhibit #1: The Wall Street Speeches Defense.

We won’t know unless they turn up, but it’s pretty clear to everyone—isn’t it?— why Clinton’s $600,000 speeches to Go9ldman Sachs are a problem, and why she hasn’t turned over the transcripts. Companies don’t pay that kind of money to have their employees told that they are evil and their business is a blight on humanity. They do pay money to curry favor with a woman then assumed to be on an unstoppable path to the White House. The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza connected the dots…

“My guess is that in the speeches, Clinton acknowledges her various friends and acquaintances at Goldman Sachs (and other Wall Street firms) and praises them for the work they are doing. “You guys get a bad rap but . . .” Yes, it’s standard-issue small talk. But it could look really, really bad in the context of the campaign. Imagine a transcript of Clinton speaking to some big bank or investment firm, thanking a litany of people she’s “been friends with forever” and praising the broader enterprise for “all you do.”

Of course. Cilizza minimizes it, saying that it “would look bad,” but in fact it is bad. Hillary can’t make the sweeping statements she has (in order to imitate Sanders) about how she will be tough on Wall Street villains, when she not only accepted huge speaking fees from the same people she says she will fight, but also fawned all over them when they were face to face. Already one attendee of a Goldman Sachs speech has supported Cilizza’s thesis. Maybe he’s wrong, and there’s exactly one way to find out. A confident, honest, competent and transparent leader would release the speeches, and explain the discrepancy between what she told the Wall Streeters then and what she says now, being ready and to answer the obvious question, “If you’ll lie to them, why wouldn’t you lie to us?”

Instead, Clinton sent her #1 surrogate,Bill, to make the hilarious accusation that Sanders was hypocritical to attack her Wall Street speaking fees. After all, Bill told one New Hampshire audience this week, Sanders, has given paid speeches too! This is the level of respect with which President Clinton, the female one, would treat the public. In 2013, Sanders received speaking fees totaling  $1,500, which he donated to charity as required by federal law. In 2014, he got $1,850 for paid speeches. Hillary Clinton made and kept over $21 million during the same time period.

A competent President has to be able to spin better than this. That aside, this shows us that a Clinton Administration would be, if possible, even less transparent than the current one.

Exhibit #2: Race-baiting and Division Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Day: Ann Althouse

smoke2

“What’s to “look into”? Why not a straightforward “yes”? She said “I’ll look into it,” and the, opaquely, “I don’t know the status, but I will certainly look into it.” What “status”? Who even has an idea what that means? Does she not own the rights to her speeches?”

—-Law prof. and eccentric blogger Ann Althouse, reacting to Hillary Clinton’s evasive response “I will look into it,” when asked during the recent debate if she would release transcripts of her high-priced speeches to various corporations, like Goldman Sachs.

Two points before I discuss Althouse’s analysis:

1. Somehow I missed this in my review of the debate. I shouldn’t have, but I was so pummeled by the sheer awfulness of it all that my observation skills were obviously impaired. Not as badly as most, however: the number of journalists who have praised that festival of platitudes and lies as “the best debate so far” are every bit as pathetic as Donald Trump’s throng. There is no excuse for being that estranged from reality.

2. To anticipate the complaints: I’ll stop posting on Hillary Clinton’s lies, deceits and unethical machinations when she stops engaging in them. That is not only fair and responsible, it is the only way to foil the Clinton game, which consists of making everyone sick and tired of pointing out how corrupt they are.

Professor Althouse nailed Hillary on this. She continued in part… Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: University of Missouri

Robert Todd Lincoln would have refused this gig...

Robert Todd Lincoln would have refused this gig…

All right, I know this is the lowest of low-hanging fruit, but come on.

The University of Missouri at Kansas City just opened a Women’s Hall of Fame and sought an appropriate female leader to speak at the gala luncheon launching it. It not only chose a non-leader, non-accomplished, non-much of anything except lucky rich kid Chelsea Clinton, but also paid $65,000 for her to speak (she’s also a non-professional speaker) for only ten minutes, and then to answer questions—which carefully crafted limitations on the questions—for another 2o minutes.  The money goes to the Clinton Foundation, which makes no difference to the ethics of the transaction, which are revolting in many ways:

1. $65,000 for a ten minute speech—that rate is about 11 thousand bucks a minute— is outrageous unless the speaker is Abe Lincoln. It is virtually impossible to say anything in ten minutes that is especially valuable, and unlikely to the vanishing point that Chelsea Clinton is one of the rare people who could accomplish it.

2. Any college or university that cannot find a better legitimate educational use of $65,000 than this is too inept to stay open.

3. The school says that Clinton’s fee was funded by private donors, meaning that $65,000 worth of donations that could have gone to, say, scholarships were diverted into the Clinton Campaign and Influence Peddling Slush Fund. Continue reading

If You Are Going To Make Citizens United A Campaign Issue, You Are Ethically Obligated To Know What The Decision Actually Says

straw man

Here: read the damn thing.

There may have been other Supreme Court decisions that have been more shamefully misrepresented by pundits, activists and demagogues, but I can’t think of one.

The case is back in the news because Hillary Clinton, who  will try for a world record in cynical pandering to the least informed voters if she gets the Democratic nomination, told a group of her top fundraisers this week that if she is elected president, her nominees to the Supreme Court must share her belief that the Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision should be overturned, according to people who heard her remarks. In this she is echoing socialist candidate Bernie Sanders, who has said…

“If elected president, I will have a litmus test in terms of my nominee to be a Supreme Court justice. And that nominee will say that we are all going to overturn this disastrous Supreme Court decision on Citizens United because that decision is undermining American democracy. I do not believe that billionaires should be able to buy politicians.”*

The decision does not say that, or hold that, nor are the implications of the decision intended to allow that. Never mind. Bernie’s ideological leftist supporters don’t care what the decision really is about any more than Clinton does. It’s just a rallying cry against “the rich” and “big corporations.” The slogan is a positive litmus test result for ignorance, or, in Bernie’s case, the willingness to deceive. In Hillary’s case, it is just Hillary being Hillary, trying to keep Sanders from flanking her on the left. Do any of those who cheered her fatuous remarks about the decision know what the decision says? I’m dubious. I don’t even think that’s what they were cheering. They were cheering the symbolic use of the case as class warfare rather than the case itself. In fact, Hillary must be banking on nobody paying attention to the case for a very simple reason. Citizens United was about whether that government could ban a documentary that was critical of…Hillary Clinton!

That’s right, a presidential candidate is going to be on record that the films, books and other communications that criticize her should be illegal. Continue reading

The Latest Clinton Financial Disclosures: Never Mind The Appearance of Impropriety, This, Folks, Has The Appearance of Bribery

bribesDuring Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, Corning lobbied State on various trade issues, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The company also donated between $100,000 and $250,000 to her family’s foundation. I know, I know—as Clinton Foundation contributor and trained Clinton spinner George Stephanopoulos—he’s an objective journalist too, you know!—will indignantly remind you, that’s no smoking gun. Then,last July, knowing Clinton would run for President  in 2016, Corning paid an obscene $225,500 honorarium for Clinton to speak to them. Notes Vox, reliable Democratic cheer-leader Ezra Klein’s liberal commentary website,

“The $225,500 speaking fee didn’t go to help disease-stricken kids in an impoverished village on some long-forgotten patch of the planet. Nor did it go to a campaign account. It went to Hillary Clinton. Personally.”

Got that? This isn’t a well-laundered foundation donation that benefits the Clintons but is plausibly deniable since it is given to their slush fund/charity. This, says Vox correctly, “involves the clear, direct personal enrichment of Hillary Clinton, presidential candidate, by people who have a lot of money at stake in the outcome of government decisions.” Continue reading

KABOOM! The University of Houston Is Paying Matthew McConaughey $135,000 To Give A Commencement Speech

head blowsThis isn’t just your usual, run-of-the-head Kaboom! where my brains go everywhere after a story makes my head explode. This is an angry Kaboom! where I kick my brain chunks around in disgust before the clean-up.

There is no possible excuse for this. The University is taxpayer funded, and if I lived in Houston, I’d be picketing graduation. The University announced in January that the 2013 Academy award-winner was speaking but avoided revealing his fee, until the persistent  the Houston Chronicle got the word on March 31. The paper said that the Celebrity Talent agency tried to block  the Chronicle’s Freedom of Information requests, arguing “that if UH tells the public how much it plans to pay McConaughey, a ‘reporter or someone’ might create ‘unfair negatives online.’ Yes, I think that was a reasonable assumption.

Scattered thoughts as I clean up the mess: Continue reading

Those Unethical, Exorbitant, Non-Profit Speaking Fees…But Don’t Blame Bill Clinton!

No wonder Bill looks so happy...

No wonder Bill looks so happy…

In the middle of instituting two rounds of major layoffs in 2012,  the non profit Washington Hospital Center gave Bill Clinton a whopping $225,000 speaking fee  to appear at its annual Cardiovascular Research Technologies conference, where Clinton expounded on health care reform and his own battle against heart disease. The hospital didn’t disclose the $225,000 payment on its annual Internal Revenue Service forms, but it surfaced on the list of income sources the ex-President provided on his wife’s required ethics filing as Secretary of State. This waste of precious funds is unconscionable, and it is also all too common.

The story was originally broken by the Washington Times, with its angle being that Clinton was the villain. I will always enjoy a little Clinton-bashing, but that is unfair and ridiculous. No one forced the hospital to pay such an exorbitant fee. No one forces any organization to pay such speaking fees; if organizations wouldn’t pay them, Clinton and other blue chip speakers would charge what the market would bear. Both Clintons charge in this range to speak, and remember, the time they devote to spreading their pearls of wisdom is typically an hour or less. Non profits as well as deep pocket corporations like Goldman Sachs, American Express and Fidelity Investments also pay the fees or similar ones, and it is an abuse of discretion whether the payer is a non profit or not. * Continue reading