Bill Clinton’s $450,000 Charity Speech
Fundraising has been very, very good to Bill Clinton.
When London socialite Renu Mehta sought to urge Britain’s super-rich into giving more to charity, she threw a fundraising dinner headlined by former President Bill Clinton, who has used his global star power to encourage large-scale philanthropy that stresses accountability. Mehta declared the first gathering of her Fortune Forum, held Sept. 26, 2006, a rousing success. The event raised about $1.5 million and brought together dozens of billionaires, celebrities and activists to network about tackling such problems as global warming, water shortages and disaster relief.
But success came with a steep price. Fundraising costs consumed more than half of the proceeds, with $450,000 going to Clinton as a speaking fee, one of the largest he has collected as personal income, according to Sen. Hillary Clinton’s federal financial disclosure forms. Clinton’s fee for his Fortune Forum appearance dwarfed the $280,000 the former president charged for a speech earlier in the day in London sponsored by a for-profit partnership and the $280,000 he received the next day for a speech in Dublin.
“We were a charity, but he wouldn’t come without that, so we paid it,” said Vijay Mehta, a co-founder of the Fortune Forum who is Renu Mehta’s father. “If we had been charged less, we could have given a bit more” to charity.
Clinton’s fee included travel costs, and the former president agreed to deliver the speech “under the understanding that the honorarium would be underwritten by the head of the Fortune Forum and her family and would not be taken from the proceeds of the event,” Hillary Clinton spokesman Jay Carson said in an e-mail. Bill Clinton’s press office referred queries on the speech to his wife’s campaign.
“That’s rubbish,” Renu Mehta said in a telephone interview. “The contract was with Fortune Forum, not me.” Mehta said she agreed to guarantee Clinton’s fee in the event the dinner did not raise enough money to meet Clinton’s tab.
I guess this all just goes to reinforce the old adage that charity begins at home.
It’s odd that Clinton charged nearly double his normal appearance fee for a charity event, particularly one supporting a cause that he’s using to stake his post-presidential legacy. Frankly, it looks unseemly. At the same time, we don’t know how much Fortune Forum would have raised with a less high-profile but cheaper speaker; the net may still have worked out in their favor.