Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Clintons' Money

The release of the Clintons' tax returns, showing that they earned $109 million for the last 8 years, raises both serious and spurious questions. First, two non-issues:

Non-issue 1. The portion of that money attributable to royalties on book sales of their respective books should not be begrudged them. Not every book written by a politician becomes a best-seller, and the people who bought all those books presumably did so freely.

Non-issue 2. I would label as spurious the inevitable charge that the Clintons' millions makes Hillary Clinton an insincere economic progressive. The charge of "limousine liberalism" has always struck me as inherently unfair. Isn't it better for someone who is himself or herself financially well off to recognize an obligation to help those less fortunate, than it is for such a person to work only for the interests of his or her own privileged class? As Barack Obama notes in The Audacity of Hope, the life of Senator typically includes such perks as the ability to fly on private jets, and so even if one does not rake in tens of millions of dollars at a time, it's easy to lose touch with ordinary people. Under these circumstances, the true test of a candidate should be what policies he or she favors.

But there are some serious issues in the tax returns:

Real issue 1. How much of the hefty speaking fees (totaling $52 million) commanded by the 42nd Commander in Chief reflected audiences' sincere desire to hear the thoughts and insights of a former President---which is wholly legitimate---and how much reflected an attempt by donors to the Senate and/or Presidential campaigns of New York's junior Senator to curry favor by lining her husband's pockets?

Real issue 2. What exactly did the former President do to earn his millions from the Yucaipa Companies? Hillary Clinton's Presidential campaign has characterized Bill Clinton's role as that of financial adviser and decision maker. Bill Clinton is a shrewd man, to be sure, but prior to becoming President he showed no particular talent for or interest in analysis of global markets. Maybe he picked these up somewhere along the line, but it's also a plausible inference that clients pay him for influence, which may be legal but arguably creates an appearance of impropriety.

Real issue 3. In light of these questions, how plausible is Hillary Clinton's claim that she, unlike Barack Obama, has been fully vetted?

Posted by Mike Dorf

12 comments:

Mithras said...

How much of the hefty speaking fees (totaling $52 million) commanded by the 42nd Commander in Chief reflected audiences' sincere desire to hear the thoughts and insights of a former President---which is wholly legitimate---and how much reflected an attempt by donors to the Senate and/or Presidential campaigns of New York's junior Senator to curry favor by lining her husband's pockets?

I'm an Obama supporter, but I think this question isn't wholly fair. I don't believe that former Presidents can command $1 million for a speech because they're so darn interesting. Rather, a popular former President like Bill Clinton still wields enormous political power, and so people want to gain his friendship in a way they couldn't while he was serving in office. I don't see the principled difference between that and trying to buy influence with a future President through him.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tam said...

One distinction is that a spouse has a lot closer a relationship than a typical lobbyist. Even if you dismiss that as a difference in degree rather than kind (making it therefore somehow unprincipled), an undeniably principled difference is that a payment to an official's spouse is, except for a few distinctions that are irrelevant, a payment to the official herself, given the joint ownership of property between spouses.

Paul said...

Isn't it better for someone who is himself or herself financially well off to recognize an obligation to help those less fortunate, than it is for such a person to work only for the interests of his or her own privileged class?

Yes. And the non-hypocritical way to do that is by spending a substantial of that fortune fulfilling that obligation, not merely supporting policies that would have others do so.

Garth Sullivan said...

the clintons did donate a substantial chunk of money to charity.

i think charges of hypocripsy are short sighted. it is obviously far better for people like gore and edwards to strive for better policies than not...

i think the questions of influence peddling though is serious. rarely has their been such an obvious, and presumably legal way, to buy good will.

interestingly, bill clinton was one of those presidents who was not born wealthy. i don't know if that makes his desire to cement his fortune any less seemly than our current president's well stated desire to get out of office and start making money on the speechifying circuit.

others in the presidents born poor category include Truman, John Adams, Lincoln and Washington. (yes and Reagan the amiable dunce)

Brian K. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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