I am convinced that politicians, especially those that work the national circuit, have three main purposes: To bring money back to their home district, to create legislation that will benefit their home district and of course, to give speeches for which they will be paid handsomely.
There are also folks who are engaged in other professions that are paid quite well for taking on a speaking engagement at a business or civic gathering, graduation or some other similar event. But for the moment l only wish to focus on the fees paid to politicians and how financially rewarding it is for them.
It would help if I provided some basic pointers on how politicians get to earn so much money by giving speeches. More importantly of course, is that the politician doesn't go out and seek speaking engagements, at least not directly. They do it through brokers, in this case agents not unlike agents who are engaged to negotiate contracts for professional actors and athletes.
The Harry Walker Agency, Worldwide Speakers Group or the Washington, D. C Speakers Bureau would be agencies that are at the top of the their game and as result get handsome fees for booking their large stable of clients.
Another aspect of booking a speaker is to check how he or she is billed out.
The agency will have on line a list of who is in their stable and a corresponding chart that provides not only a brief bio but a fee ranking.
The fee ranking, say No. 3, means that the speaker gets a fee that could range between $5,000 to $10,000. A ranking of No. 6 means the speaker is in the $100,000 plus range. Of course travel, hotel accommodations, security and per diem expenses are to be added. One can only imagine what cost might be tacked on when a former president is being sought after as a speaker? And speaking of former presidents, they don't come cheaply. An example would be former President George W. Bush. He still has Secret Service protection and has earned, according to the Washington Post, close to $15 million since leaving office. He doesn't do a great deal of public speaking but when he does he can command upwards to $100,000. If some organization wishes to have a former president as its keynote speaker and don't have a lot to spend, they may try and get the 43rd president rather than the 42st president, Bill Clinton. President Clinton, when it comes to being paid for his speeches, is the "grand daddy" of the speaker's circuit.
It has been reported that President Clinton flew to Hong Kong, gave a short speech and for doing so received $750,000. And like his successor in office, he too travels with a small army of security agents.
What truly amazes me is what is it that entices organizations, from colleges to trade groups, to pay such huge sums to hear from someone who is no longer "on the bridge" of steering the Ship of State? And this is especially true of colleges and universities who are supposed to be seeking ways to cut cost in order to bring down the exorbitant cost of higher education.
One would think it would be an honor to be ask to address a hall full of anxious students and just be reimbursed for out of pocket expenses. That is not to be the case. Since he left office, and was downright broke when he did, President Clinton has earned close to $100 million imparting his wisdom.
I have to believe that what interests the speakers who are on the speaking circuit, is not in the least the organization or its mission, instead, how much the organization is willing to pay to have the politician present.
Hillary Clinton, not a year out of office as the Obama Administration's Secretary of State, easily commands close to $300,000 per speech and it doesn't really matter what group she is speaking to - be it the national landscape trade group or Hamilton College in Central New York. If you want her to address your audience, be prepared to pay dearly.
But there is a bright side to getting speakers. Last year, at the 2013 Vermont Wounded Warriors Golf Tournament and Banquet there were two speakers. Between the two of them, they had 45 years of service to the U.S Marine Corps and to the Vermont Army National Guard. They were in their respective service's full dress uniform. Collectively, they had 12 rows of medals on their jackets. Their talks were informative, emotional and inspiring. The cost of having them as the event's speakers, was a beautiful maple plaque made by the J. K. Adams Company, of Dorset, Vt.
Writing in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, columnist Peggy Noonan quoted the noted historian, Robert McCullough, regarding President Harry Truman, "His name was not for sale. He would take no fees for commercial endorsements or for lobbying or writing letters or making phone calls." On second thought, I am going to forgo creating the Keelan Speakers Bureau.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington.