In a scene with all the makings of a campaign appearance, a line
of Miami students waiting to get into Clinton's speech snaked around
the university's arena hours before her arrival on Wednesday. When
she arrived, it was with the heavy protection she retains as a
former secretary of state and the wife of a former president, Bill
Outside the arena, Ready for Hillary, an independent pro-Clinton
group that has recruited veterans of President Barack Obama's
campaigns, was signing up supporters. By the time Clinton's speech
began, there were "Ready For Hillary" signs and stickers throughout
the crowd of an estimated 6,000 - including at least 3,200 students.
Clinton's remarks were not surprising - a call for students to get
involved in their communities, and support for Obama's healthcare
overhaul, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's veto of anti-gay
legislation, democracy in Venezuela and the continued removal of
chemical weapons from Syria.
As usual, she was coy about the prospect of a bid to become the
first woman to be U.S. president. When asked about the letters "TBD"
in her biography on Twitter, Clinton, 66, said with a smile, "I'll
certainly ponder that."
Clinton's speech represented the public face of a lucrative
nationwide speaking tour that has kept her in the spotlight as the
widely presumed, albeit undeclared, front-runner for the 2016
Democratic presidential nomination.
But the tour also is raising concerns among Democrats and others
over a range of issues, from the political implications of Democrats
rallying around Clinton so long before the 2016 election to the way
her team has stage-managed what some see as a nationwide dash for
cash in speaking fees.
Some Democrats are wary of criticizing Clinton publicly, but
privately worry that scenes such as the one in Coral Gables could
wind up hurting the party in 2016 if they portray Clinton as an
entitled prospect who does not have to fight for the party's
nomination. Such a sentiment is widely believed to have damaged
Clinton in 2008, when she lost the party's nomination to Obama
despite entering the race as the favorite.
Early polls indicate that Clinton easily would be the favorite to
win the 2016 nomination if she chose to run. But in recent weeks
there have been signs of frustration within the party over what some
call the "inevitability" of her nomination.
Vice President Joe Biden, who has said he is considering a run for
the White House, seemed to reflect the thinking of the
tap-the-brakes-on-Clinton crowd this week when he told Politico that
2016 is "lifetimes away" and that he is "as qualified as anybody" to
There also are complaints about private speeches Clinton has given
to various groups.
Clinton's staff and her representatives will not comment on her
fees, but several booking agents who have worked with political
figures estimate that her per-speech fee for private groups could
range up to $250,000.
Her paid appearances have included talks with investors at
high-profile Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs and Carlyle
Group, leading some liberal groups that typically support Democrats
to wonder whether Clinton might be too cozy with Wall Street for
"It's a big red flag," said Adam Green, co-founder of the
Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which advocates tighter
"If she outwardly campaigns as a corporate Democrat, it wouldn't be
a conflict of interest - it would just be a conflict with where the
center of gravity in America is," Green said.
A 'HEAVILY DISCOUNTED' FEE
Clinton's staff will not say how she chooses her audiences or how
much she could make from the dozens of speeches on her tour this
Harry Walker Agency, the firm that books her speeches and also
represents political luminaries such as Bill Clinton and former vice
presidents Dick Cheney and Al Gore, did not respond to requests for
For her speech at the University of Miami, Clinton was paid a
"heavily discounted" fee that was covered by a donor and not the
university, said Donna Shalala, the university's president.
Shalala, who was secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services
Department under Bill Clinton and is a longtime ally of the
Clintons, would not identify the donor or disclose the fee.
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The Miami speech was typical of those Hillary Clinton has given to
voting groups that are Democrats' target in get-out-the-vote
campaigns - young voters, African Americans and women. It appears
that Clinton typically charges a modest fee, or no fee, for such
But most of the speeches Clinton has given lately have been more
private affairs, in which ticket-buyers pay a considerable price to
see her. Clinton's staff often demands that her speeches be closed
to media or be "off the record" - even when the speeches take place
at conferences where other events are open to reporters.
Hours before she spoke in Coral Gables, Clinton gave a talk at a
healthcare technology conference in Orlando. Reporters asking about
that event were told they could gain access by buying a ticket for
'SHE'S A PHENOMENON'
It is not unusual for former politicians and public officials to
enjoy lucrative speaking careers once they have left office.
Since leaving the presidency in 2001, Bill Clinton has been paid
more than $90 million in speaking fees, including $13.4 million in
2011, according to tabulations by CNN and financial disclosures by
Hillary Clinton when she was a U.S. senator from New York and
secretary of state.
As was the case last year when a group in Israel paid him $500,000
for a 45-minute speech commemorating Israeli President Shimon Peres'
90th birthday, Bill Clinton has donated some of his fees to his
family's charitable foundation.
But because of the possibility that Hillary Clinton still may seek
the nation's highest office, her collecting huge speaking fees is
seen a bit differently by some in Washington.
Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf acknowledges that in
Washington's heated partisan environment, some insiders in both
parties "are going to complain about anything that Secretary Clinton
does, and her supporters are going to say everything she does is
But, Sheinkopf said, "This country has a history of putting rich
people into public office. If they're jealous of the amount of money
she's making for speeches, they should become the former first lady
and a former senator and a former secretary of state, and see what
Clinton has said that she will not decide whether to run for
president before the end of this year. Until then, she will continue
the speaking tour, and promote a new memoir that focuses on her time
as a diplomat.
Clinton has said that an assault by militants on a U.S. mission in
Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans in 2012 was her greatest
regret as secretary of state, and Republicans continue to try to use
the episode to portray her as incompetent on foreign policy.
The summer release of her book will give her opportunities to talk
about her time as secretary of state in carefully staged
appearances, while continuing to give lucrative speeches.
Some of her supporters play down the notion that she could face a
backlash from her speaking tour.
"A huge part of politics is staying in touch and being engaged and
involved," said former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat who
says he would welcome a Clinton presidential bid. "She's a
phenomenon, and seems to be becoming more so."
(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington, Editing by
David Lindsey and Ken Wills)
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