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