How US ex-presidents talk their way into millions

June 12, 2015 12:04
Bill Clinton makes more as a speaker than he ever did as US president. Photo: Politico

US presidents like Barack Obama make only US$400,000 a year, not a huge sum compared with the salaries pulled down by the captains of industry.

But it's when they leave the White House that the country's leaders stand to make millions -- by doing something they will have done for several years while in office: giving speeches. 

Last week, the Politico news outlet reported former president George W. Bush makes between US$100,000 and US$175,000 for every speech he gives and that he has given at least 200 of them since he left office in 2009.

That works out to more than US$30 million so far in speaking fees.

Gerald Ford, who briefly occupied the White House, took umbrage when he was later criticized for making money off his former job, saying that as a private citizen he could leverage his past however he pleased, Fortune magazine reported.

Not long after Ford started hitting the lecture circuit, the Washington Speakers Bureau -- home to speakers including Bush and his wife, Laura -- was founded in 1979.

Such agencies, which naturally get a share of the take, have helped drive up the skyrocketing fees prominent speakers can now command.

Fortune estimated the eye-popping sums some well-known ex-politicians make on the rubber-chicken circuit.

Former US president Bill Clinton, for instance, was reportedly paid about US$225,000 for a speech in February.

Are they worth the money?

“The speech is kind of secondary to … just being able to have a big name at your event,” the magazine quoted Lance Strate, a communications professor at Fordham University, as saying.

“It might get reported on some form of TV or cable news, which further adds to the prestige and the publicity of the event."

So even if nothing particularly profound is said (Bush's speech at one event included the not untypical gem "Bowling is fun"), it's the halo effect that the organizations who hire these ex-pols are aiming for.

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