Hillary Clinton took in an estimated $1.8 million for eight speeches to eight universities over the past year, The Washington Post reports. The estimate is based on the three that have disclosed their fees, combined with an understanding of the fees usually expected by the former secretary of state.
At a time when tuition continues to escalate, the optics by the presumptive presidential candidate have many puzzled.
"At UNLV," The Post reported, "where officials have agreed to raise tuition by 17 percent over the next four years, student government leaders wrote a letter to Clinton last week asking her to return the planned $225,000 fee to the university. If she does not, they say, they intend to protest her visit."
“The students are outraged about this,” said Elias Benjelloun, UNLV’s student body president, to The Post. “When you see reckless spending, it just belittles the sacrifices students are consistently asked to make. I’m not an accountant or economist, so I can’t put a price tag on how much we should be paying her, but I think she should come for free.”
"The students said they understood the UNLV Foundation fee is being paid by private donations and is not coming from university or taxpayer funds, but they noted the money raised is supposed to help students and the school," the Las Vegas Review Journal noted.
The students responded by sending a letter co-signed by Daniel Waqar, UNLV public relations director for the student government, and Benjelloun.
“Regardless of the source of the funds, we think it is important to speak on behalf of the thousands of students who benefit from the funds raised by the UNLV Foundation, and ask Secretary Clinton to do what is right: donate the money back to the UNLV Foundation and have it enrich thousands of students and faculty members on campus,” the letter said, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal report.
The controversy over charging colleges and universities high speaking fees is part of a larger pushback on Clinton's speaking fees. In the past 15 months alone, the liberal Mother Jones estimates, Clinton has taken in over $5 million in speaking fees, mostly from major corporations.
The situation has gained widespread media attention.
“She is a little bit out of touch,” MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell said on "Meet the Press," “despite all of her work and all of her connection to hardworking people in the middle class. ...
“It’s a little bit of lack of self-awareness when she talks about being dead broke, and she then tried to fix it, but still not getting the language, you know, politically correct,” Mitchell said.
To put Clinton's fee in context, Mike Frank of Speakers Unlimited told the Columbus Post Dispatch earlier this year that "top celebrities charge $10,000 or more, while lesser-known speakers start around $1,000."
But very high-level former politicians of Clinton's caliber make very high fees. According to a Washington Post summary, Bill Clinton's highest fee was $750,000 for speaking to Ericson, the telecom company in Hong Kong. Rudy Giuliani once made $270,000 for a speech, and Al Gore topped out at $156,000 for a speech in England. Former President George W. Bush trails this pack with $110,000 per speech on average.
In 2006, MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews was caught up in a controversy over receiving up to $35,000 for speaking fees, but NBC defused that by noting that Matthews received none of the money: the fees went directly to a charity of his choice.
Clinton likewise told ABC that her university speaking fees went to charity, but critics were quick to note that the charity in question is not the Red Cross, for instance, but the Clinton Foundation, which serves to enhance the reach and mobility of the Clinton brand.
“All of the fees have been donated to the Clinton Foundation for it to continue its life-changing and life-saving work. So it goes from a foundation at a university to another foundation,” Clinton told ABC.