Former President Barack Obama, who re-entered public life with an appearance at the University of Chicago this week, is reportedly giving a speech to a healthcare conference in September that is hosted by Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald. He’ll be cashing in to the tune of $400,000.
Not surprisingly, Obama’s encountered some flack over his decision to speak to the group after being so critical of Wall Street during his presidency when he argued financial industry executives continued to profit while America was trapped in a recession. At the time, he even called them “fat cat bankers.” Fox Business was among the first to come out publicly about the former president’s decision to take a payment for the speech.
“Obama, a progressive Democrat, spoke frequently about Wall Street greed during his eight years as president, and now he’s accepting a speaking fee from the industry he singled out as the main culprit of the banking collapse.”
But they weren’t the only ones. The Hill called it “hypocrisy,” quickly pointing out that he’s getting paid twice what Hillary Clinton gets for a speech.
“He had no problem trashing fat cat bankers when it was politically convenient; and now he has no problem accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from those same bankers when it’s financially convenient.”
Even The Washington Post, not often seen as an Obama critic, brought out a point that was hard to debate.
“If there’s one thing the Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders wing is still sore about in the Obama administration, it’s the lack of prosecutions for anybody involved in the financial crisis.”
Obama’s spokesman, Eric Schultz, says the former president had already announced that he would be giving speeches periodically. Some would be paid, others would not. His appearance on Monday at the University of Chicago was unpaid. He said in a statement that Obama accepted Cantor Fitzgerald’s invitation to speak because healthcare, which was among his signature accomplishments in office, is still an important issue to him.
“With regard to this or any speech involving Wall Street sponsors, I’d just point out that in 2008, Barack Obama raised more money from Wall Street than any other candidate in history — and still went on to pass the toughest reforms on Wall Street since FDR,” said Schultz.
He makes a good point and that could be why there’s no reason to trip over Obama getting paid for the speech.
But there are also some others:
1. There’s no indication of what he’ll actually do with the money. Obama could pocket every dime, which would be his right, or he could give it to whatever charity or non-profit he sees fit. Plus it really isn’t about the cash. Last year, Money magazine reported that Obama’s net worth is $12.2 million. He’s also got a two-book deal with Penguin Random House worth $60 million. While he was president, he gave more than $1 million to charity, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the money he earns from the Cantor gig went the same way.
2. Other ex-presidents get paid for speaking. George H.W. Bush was reportedly earning between $100,000 to $175,000 per speech after he left office in 2009. Bill Clinton clocked more than $260,000 when he stepped behind a podium as late as last year, for speaking to a perfume industry trade group. And “The Great Communicator” himself, President Ronald Reagan commanded a $2 million fee for speaking to a Japanese corporation in 1989.
3. Capitol Hill is GOP controlled, so Obama won’t be influencing anything there. It’s not like Cantor Fitzgerald is trying to be buddies with Obama in order to curry favor in the legislature. Most of Washington is trying to undo everything he worked for over the past eight years. So the thought that the mid-size investment bank — which has spent much of its time trying to heal after hundreds of people on its staff were killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — is looking to buy its way back into Washington through Obama is unfounded.
4. Obama is going to be in demand for a long time. Schultz, in his statement, said that Obama would be giving speeches that he would be paid for and some that he wouldn’t be paid for. It would come as no surprise that his appearances would be highly anticipated. The media went nuts over Monday’s conversation and that was just him sitting down and rapping with college students. Imagine what it will be like when he starts speaking on public policy, education or the environment. People miss Obama like Death Valley misses water and companies who use public speakers know this, so they will pay large amounts for a speaker like him in what has become a billion dollar industry.
Madison J. Gray is Digital Managing Editor of EBONY.com. Follow him on Twitter @madisonjgray.