Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, there’s no doubt you’ve heard rumblings (or even rantings and ravings) about Hillary Clinton’s “mysterious” speaking engagements that have netted her $21.7 million in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. Many folks — especially in Bernie Sanders' camp — seem keen on stoking outrage about what exactly Clinton said to bankers during her two closed-door Goldman Sachs speaking gigs, for which she was paid a reported $675,000.
Sanders, a populist who regularly rails against corporate interests and supports campaign finance reform, has long-accused Clinton of kowtowing to the interests of Wall Street. In January’s democratic debate, for instance, Sanders suggested Clinton was in the pocket of Wall Street specifically because of the speaking fees.
“The leader of Goldman Sachs is a billionaire who comes to Congress and tells us we should cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” Sanders said. “Secretary Clinton ... I don't mean to just point the finger at you, [but] you've received over $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs in one year.”
Still, Clinton’s camp seems to refuse to acknowledge Sanders’ strategy to rouse anger over the speeches are having any serious impact on Clinton’s ability to capture the democratic vote. On Friday, Clinton campaign pollster Joel Benenson told reporters contents of those speeches — and the fees Clinton collected — were all much ado about nothing. “I don’t think voters are interested in the transcripts of her speeches,” he said.
And Brian Fallon, Clinton’s press secretary, echoed those sentiments to the New York Times. In a statement, he wrote, “Bernie Sanders, like Karl Rove before him, is trying to impugn Hillary Clinton’s integrity without any basis in fact.”
To be sure, Clinton is far from the only politician to benefit from big banks. Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, for instance, took a loan from Goldman Sachs to fund his senatorial bid. That prompted rival Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky to accuse Cruz of being “owned” by the bank. “You take a guy like Cruz, people are liking Cruz — they think he’s for the free market, [but] he’s owned by Goldman Sachs,” Paul said in an interview with Fox Business. “I mean, he and Hillary have more in common than we [libertarians] would have in common with either Cruz or [Donald] Trump or any of them, so I just don’t think there is much picking.”
In other words, Wall Street’s tentacles reach so far that perhaps no politician ever could be totally immune to the bank's reach. (And maybe even Sanders himself. Andy Borowitz, resident comedian at The New Yorker, quipped Friday Sanders admitted to accepting “free checking” from big banks “in exchange for maintaining a $500 minimum balance.”)
In all seriousness, though, the fact is her fees aren’t even that outrageous. Take her husband, for instance, who earned a cool $775,000 for a speech in Hong Kong to a telecom firm. Last year, Quartz pointed out that, compared to male politicians, Clinton's fees are actually pretty much in line (if not less than) what men get.
In regard to her $300,000 speaking fee, Quartz noted “her offer might actually be considered a steal, compared with what the country’s most prominent men charge to grace the podium at big events.”
Still, if Sanders’ strategy works, and succeeds in drawing ire from the masses, the so-called mystery Goldman Sachs speeches and fees might eventually make a dent in the credibility of her campaign.
On Saturday, in fact, an online petition to get Clinton to release the tapes began circulating. As of Saturday afternoon, it already had 11,400 signatures.
“I would personally like to know how Hillary really stands with Wall Street and Big Money,” petitioner George J. wrote. “To take that kind of money from Goldman Sachs ... does call her credibility into question. It is screamingly obvious that a firm like Goldman Sachs is not of the people, by the people or for the people — they are willing to game the system in any way possible to increase their own wealth. Is Hillary gaming the system to increase her own power and position?”