In the past eight years, Bill and Hillary Clinton earned a combined $109 million, with the former president collecting nearly half of that money as a speaker hired at times by companies that have been among his wife’s most generous political supporters.
After leaving the White House, the Clintons earned $30 million from their best-selling books and brought in as much as $15 million more through an investment partnership with one of her top presidential campaign fundraisers, California billionaire Ronald Burkle. The disclosures came with Friday’s long-awaited release of the Clintons’ joint tax returns, a move made in the thick of Sen. Clinton’s fight with Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois for the Democratic nomination.
The New York Democrat initially resisted making her family’s finances public, but pressure on her to match Obama’s disclosure grew in February when she disclosed that she had dipped into her personal account to lend her campaign $5 million.
The tax returns illustrate the rags-to-riches story of a couple who came to the White House from Arkansas with modest means and left facing an estimated $12 million in legal debts rung up during investigations of the Whitewater land deal, campaign fundraising and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. As she entered the Senate and he left the political spotlight, the Clintons transformed themselves into a successful global brand.
“We’ve come a long way from Harry Truman,” said Leon Panetta, a Clinton administration official who now directs the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, referring to the “man from Missouri” who left the presidency to live a modest lifestyle in his home state.
“In many ways, it is becoming the American story. A lot of people who have devoted their lives to public service, who lived hand-to-mouth during months of public service, are suddenly able, after public life, to find some rewards.”
The Clintons paid $33 million in federal taxes during the eight-year period and donated $10 million to charity, said Jay Carson, a Clinton campaign spokesman.
A common thread running through the couple’s personal finances is the presence of many of the same figures who helped bankroll the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton, and now that of his wife.
Major donors to both Clintons’ White House bids hired the former president as a consultant, joined him in lucrative investment ventures and paid him six-figure sums to speak at corporate gatherings.
In 2005, Bill Clinton averaged almost a speech a day – 352 for the year – though only about 20 percent were for personal income. On one day in Canada, he made $475,000 for two speeches, more than double his annual salary as president.
The considerable crossover between the couple’s decades of political fundraising and their personal profit also extended at times to the former president’s charity work and his presidential library, though many records related to those remain secret. What is clear is that numerous financial patrons – individuals as well as large corporations – repeatedly emerge in the Clintons’ circle.
Chief among them is Burkle, the founder of the Yucaipa investment firm, who not only has provided Bill Clinton with a hefty source of income during his post-presidency but also ranks as one of Sen. Clinton’s “Hillraisers,” a title given to those who raise more than $100,000 for her presidential bid.
Burkle has held fundraisers for her at his Beverly Hills estate, and also made six-figure donations to independent political groups, such as Emily’s List, that are supporting her.
The tax returns show Bill Clinton’s partnership with Burkle, at various arms of his Yucaipa firm, yielding in excess of $1 million a year, starting in 2003. In 2005, Clinton collected $5 million from those investments, and more than $2.5 million in each of the past two years. The former president served as a senior adviser to the private firm, helping Burkle land investors and identify business opportunities. The Wall Street Journal reported that Clinton started to unwind the relationship earlier this year and could ultimately receive a payout worth about $20 million.
Should Sen. Clinton reach the White House, her husband’s ability to continue to tap many of these income sources will be severely limited. From a legal standpoint, accepting money from any company that is regulated by the federal government could create problems, said Robert Kelner, an ethics specialist with the D.C. law firm Covington & Burling.
The tangle of relationships would make it “very complicated,” he said. “I would say it’s largely a question of appearances, public relations and politics, and less a matter of Hillary Clinton actually suffering any legal liability because of his action.”