It’s not just Wall Street banks. Most companies and groups that paid Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to speak between 2013 and 2015 have lobbied federal agencies in recent years, and more than one-third are government contractors, an Associated Press review has found. Their interests are sprawling and would follow Clinton to the White House should she win election this fall.
The AP’s review of federal records, regulatory filings and correspondence showed that almost all the 82 corporations, trade associations and other groups that paid for or sponsored Clinton’s speeches have actively sought to sway the government – lobbying, bidding for contracts, commenting on federal policy and in some cases contacting State Department officials or Clinton herself during her tenure as secretary of state.
Presidents are not generally bound by many of the ethics and conflict-of-interest regulations that apply to non-elected executive branch officials, although they are subject to laws covering related conduct, such as bribery and illegal gratuities. Clinton’s 94 paid appearances over two years on the speech circuit leave her open to scrutiny over decisions she would make in the White House or influence that may affect the interests of her speech sponsors.
Rival presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and Republican critics have mocked Clinton over her closed-door talks to banks and investment firms, saying she is too closely aligned to Wall Street to curb its abuses. Sanders said in a speech in New York that Clinton earned an average of about 5,000 for each speech and goaded her for declining to release transcripts.
“If somebody gets paid 5,000 for a speech, it must be an unbelievably extraordinary speech,” Sanders said at an outdoor rally at Washington Square Park last week in advance of the New York primary. “I kind of think if that 5,000 speech was so extraordinary, she should release the transcripts and share it with all of us.”
Clinton said again Thursday she will release transcripts of her paid speeches to private groups or companies when other political candidates do the same. She compared such disclosures to the long-standing practice of politicians being expected to release their income tax returns, which she did far earlier and more thoroughly than Sanders in the campaign.
“Now there’s a new request to release transcripts of speeches that have been given,” Clinton said during a town hall. “When everybody agrees to do that, I will as well because I think it’s important we all abide by the same standards. So, let’s do the tax return standard first because that’s been around for a really long time.”
Clinton has said she can be trusted to spurn her donors on critical issues, noting that President Barack Obama was tough on Wall Street despite his prolific fundraising there. But her earnings of more than .6 million from such a wide range of interest groups could affect public confidence in her proclaimed independence.
“The problem is whether all these interests who paid her to appear before them will expect to have special access when they have an issue before the government,” said Lawrence M. Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington-based election watchdog group.
The AP review identified at least 60 firms and organizations that sponsored Clinton’s speeches and lobbied the U.S. government at some point since the start of the Obama administration. Over the same period, at least 30 also profited from government contracts. Twenty-two groups lobbied the State Department during Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. They include familiar Wall Street financial houses such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., corporate giants like General Electric Co. and Verizon Communications Inc., and lesser-known entities such as the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and the Global Business Travel Association.
Clinton’s two-year speaking tour, which took place after she resigned as secretary of state, “puts her in the position of having to disavow that money is an influence on her while at the same time backing campaign reform based on the influence of money,” said Noble, a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission. “It ends up creating the appearance of influence.”
Clinton dismissed those concerns in a town hall in Columbia, South Carolina, saying that “the argument seems to be that if you ever took money from any business of any kind, then you can’t fulfill your public responsibilities. Well, that’s just not the case.”
Clinton’s spokesman, Brian Fallon, said in a statement, “Hillary Clinton’s record shows she has consistently taken on these very same industries, and to suggest she would deviate from that at all as president is completely baseless.”