Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has come under fire this election cycle for accepting six-figure speaking fees from members of large firms after leaving the Obama administration.
It is undeniable, that in an election cycle so far marked by everything short of an all-out rebellion against the Democratic and Republican political establishments, the optics of Clinton's speaking fees are very, very bad. They are especially damaging among her own Democratic base, who question both the enormous amounts of money received for the speeches as well as the sources of those speaking fees: Goldman Sachs, GoldenTree Asset Management, and a bevy of other large Wall Street firms, Fortune reports.
However, there are far more constructive criticisms of Clinton's candidacy to be made than to focus on these speaking fees.
Firstly, there is nothing improper about the fact that Clinton gave these speeches and was apparently paid handsomely for them. She was not in violation of any ethics laws which prohibit government officials to gain income from speaking fees, as she was no longer working for the government when she gave these speeches.
There is also the fact that Clinton was not running a political campaign when the speeches were made. As Fortune points out, there is a world of difference between a political campaign for public office which has significant backing from the richest Fortune 500 companies and speaking as a former government official to people who are willing to shell out big bucks to hear her speak.
The former scenario is much more likely to put the politician running the campaign into a position where he or she feels they need to bend to the demands of business. While Clinton is backed by many capital management groups and foundations, OpenSecrets.org reports many unions being among her top donors as well during this election cycle. So to attack her as being completely bought-and-sold by Goldman Sachs is a bit disingenuous and ignores the fact that donors from other sectors of society similarly see advantages in a Clinton presidency.
While there is also a fracas going on about the content of the speeches and their confidentiality, attorney Darren Kavinoky explains that the standard contractual language for the speeches disallow Clinton and Goldman Sachs from disseminating the content of the speeches, LawNewz reports. There is no conspiracy, just mundane contractual language.
There are certainly reasons to think that Clinton would be sympathetic to big business interests once in office, and the influence of large donors to her campaign should perhaps warrant more attention. The embrace of deregulating New Deal-era banking laws during her husband's presidency in the 1990s makes many potential supporters understandably uneasy as well. But the focus on speaking fees Clinton amassed when she was not in office is a distraction from genuine criticisms which can be made of the Clinton campaign.