Big mouth means big bucks

Former President Clinton, who might someday be the first spouse, traveled the globe last year, making more than $10 million giving speeches at corporate retreats, trade group gatherings and motivational venues.

The speaking engagements and their top-dollar fees were detailed in Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate financial disclosure report, made public Thursday. The report showed that the former president and his presidency-seeking wife had assets of at least $10 million and might have as much as $50 million with no liabilities.

The Clintons liquidated a blind trust valued at $5 million to $25 million in April after learning that it included such investments as oil and drug companies, military contractors and Wal-Mart, campaign spokesman Phil Singer said Thursday night, confirming published reports.

Another campaign spokesman, Howard Wolfson, said in a statement: “As a presidential candidate, Senator Clinton was required to make her assets public. As a result, she had to dissolve her blind trust. Upon its dissolution, she and the president chose to go above and beyond what was required of them and liquidate their assets in order to avoid even the hint of a conflict of interest.”

When it comes to family affluence, the reports show that the New York senator is the wealthiest of all members of Congress seeking the presidency. Among all presidential candidates, however, Republican Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, stands alone with assets of between $190 million and $250 million. Republican Rudy Giuliani and Democrat John Edwards have each reported assets of about $30 million.

The reports Thursday represent a second wave of financial disclosures by presidential candidates. Most already filed last month with the Federal Election Commission and the Office of Government Ethics. Among the leading candidates, however, Clinton, Arizona Sen. John McCain and Romney received extensions because the Office of Government Ethics wants them to open up their blind trusts.

The reports filed with the Senate by Clinton and McCain list the blind trusts, but don’t disclose what is in them. Clinton’s blind trust holds between $5 million and $10 million. A blind trust in the name of McCain’s wife, Cindy, has between $500,000 and $1 million.

Clinton’s speech income, while lucrative, is hardly unusual among politicians. Giuliani, in a financial disclosure report filed last month, reported grossing $11.4 million for speeches last year. Edwards said he made $395,000 in paid speeches, most at colleges.

But Clinton, who earned fees from $100,000 to $450,000, commands far more per speech than Giuliani or Edwards. He has been paid speaking fees by such corporations as IBM, General Motors, and Cisco Systems and trade groups such as the National Association of Realtors and the Mortgage Bankers Association.

He also was paid for speeches to at least two charity events — $75,000 to address the TJ Martell Foundation, which finances leukemia research, and $150,000 in a speech in Toronto on behalf of Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund.

Jay Carson, the former president’s spokesman, said Clinton typically donates millions of dollars in free and donated speeches to charities.

“On occasion he also speaks to organizations that invite him to be the keynote speaker at their charitable fundraiser at which they make far more money as a result of his attendance,” Carson said.

The former president was particularly popular abroad. During one four-day stretch last September, he spoke to audiences in England, Ireland, South Africa, Germany and Denmark. The trip yielded $1.74 million in speaking fees.

Clinton, who also performs charitable work through his Clinton Foundation, has made no secret of his desire to build up his income now to be free to help his wife in the future. His $10.2 million in speaking fees last year was a 36 percent increase over his speech income in 2005.

“I’ve tried to get in a position where, you know, … I’ll be able to do what she did when I was president — that is, I don’t want to spend any time making a living,” Clinton said in an interview on CNN last month.

The former president’s earnings must be reported as the spouse of a senator. Disclosure rules do not require him to reveal everything. Sen. Clinton’s report did not have to say how much he earns as a partner with Yucaipa Global Opportunities Fund, a Los Angeles-based investment firm founded by longtime Clinton fundraiser Ron Burkle.

According to Thursday’s financial disclosure forms, the Clintons hold two accounts, each valued at somewhere between $5 and $25 million. One is a bank deposit account; the other the blind trust.

Senate rules only require members to value their assets in dollar ranges, so it is difficult to determine the exact worth of a politician.

Other reports filed by presidential candidates who are in Congress show:

  • McCain’s family wealth is almost exclusively held by his wife. An heiress to a major beer distribution company, Cindy McCain has several trust funds, money markets and other accounts, some worth more than $1 million.
  • Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and his wife, Michelle, have assets ranging from $460,000 to $1.1 million. Those assets don’t include options on 4,500 shares that have not yet vested in Tree House Foods, a food distribution firm on whose board Michelle Obama served. Michelle Obama stepped down from the board last month. Her position had raised questions because the company is a food supplier to Wal-Mart and Obama has praised a union effort to change working conditions at the giant retailer.
  • Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., has a cottage in County Galway, Ireland, worth between $100,001 and $250,000. He reported earning rent from the cottage of between $5,001 and $15,000. His wife, Jackie, has money market funds, IRAs and stock in companies, including Blockbuster Inc.
  • Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., has bank accounts and life insurance policies worth between $19,000 and $110,000. He receives a teaching stipend from Widener University, where he has been an adjunct law professor since 1991. His wife teaches at the Delaware Technical and Community College.
  • Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., listed a blind trust worth between $1 million and $5 million as well as IRAs, checking account, money market fund and stock in companies including Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc., and Coca-Cola Co. Brownback’s wife, Mary, owns a limited liability partnership worth more than $1 million.

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