Former President Bill Clinton accepted more than $2.5 million in speaking fees from 13 major corporations and trade associations that lobbied the U.S. State Department while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, an International Business Times investigation has found. The fees were paid directly to the former president, and not directed to his philanthropic foundation.
Many of the companies that paid Bill Clinton for these speeches -- a roster of global giants that includes Microsoft, Oracle and Dell -- engaged him within the same three-month period in which they were also lobbying the State Department in pursuit of their policy aims, federal disclosure documents show. Several companies received millions of dollars in State Department contracts while Hillary Clinton led the institution.
The disclosure that President Clinton received personal payments for speeches from the same corporate interests that were actively seeking to secure favorable policies from a federal department overseen by his wife underscores the vexing issue now confronting her presidential aspirations: The Clinton family is at the center of public suspicions over the extent of insider dealing in Washington, emblematic of concerns that corporate interests are able to influence government action by creatively funneling money to people in power.
“The dynamic is insidious and endemic to this system,” said Meredith McGhee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance watchdog group in Washington. "The fact is that the wealthiest .01 percent on the outside of government believes -- fervently -- that by paying speaking fees, or making campaign contributions, that it can gain access and influence."
Rules Do Not Apply
Federal ethics rules aim to discourage officials and their spouses from accepting gifts from interests “seeking official action” from a government agency. But the rules do not apply to speaking fees, said Craig Holman an advocate for tightened ethics structures at Public Citizen, a watchdog group in Washington.
The rules at issue “wouldn’t have any regulations that would make this illegal, unless of course there were a quid pro quo, and that would be a violation of the bribery laws,” Holman told IBTimes. “There isn’t an ethics rule that prohibits someone like Bill Clinton from charging exorbitant speaking fees and collecting those speaking fees from businesses that have interests before the administration.”
But regardless of the rules, he added, the dynamic through which President Clinton has been able to profit from the same companies eager to gain the ear of his wife’s department “poses a very troubling conflict-of-interest situation that is going to continue to dog Hillary over the course of the campaign."
Ten of the 13 firms that both lobbied the State Department and paid Bill Clinton speaking fees did so within the very same three-month reporting period. This group includes five technology firms -- Oracle, Dell, Microsoft, SalesForce and VeriSign -- that collectively paid Bill Clinton a total of $1.05 million.
Federal records show that Microsoft and Oracle were lobbying Clinton’s State Department on, among other issues, immigrant work visas. Oracle was also lobbying in pursuit of legislation dealing with penalties for aiding espionage. Dell was concerned with tariffs imposed by European countries on its computer products. VeriSign was lobbying on cybersecurity and Internet taxation. SalesForce was lobbying on cloud computing, security controls and electronic privacy issues.
Three of the technology firms that paid Bill Clinton while lobbying Hillary Clinton’s agency also received lucrative State Department contracts. Microsoft received almost $4 million in such contracts after receiving none the year before Clinton joined President Barack Obama's Cabinet. Oracle received $6.5 million in State Department contracts, a large increase from prior years. Dell secured contracts worth more than $28 million, up from just $2.5 million in the year before Clinton became secretary of state