It is fascinating to watch the growing controversy over the Clinton speeches and the decision of the campaign to stick with its refusal to release the transcripts in its possession. Hillary Clinton last week appeared to finish “looking into” releasing the transcripts of her speeches Wall Street and other groups. Voters and reporters have been asking to read what Clinton has said to these groups. After all, Clinton has said that she has only given Wall Street straight talk and that these firms stopped given her money. The latter statement has been called “demonstrably untrue” by the Washington Post. Clinton has thus far refused to release the transcripts and instead that she would only consider the release if everyone releases every speech ever given to any group. It had a certain Macbethian feel of guaranteeing that the final reckoning will never come “Till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane.” The problem is that Birnam forest did come to Dunsinane. The demand has now produced the world’s worse comparison for Clinton. It turns out that Bernie Sanders has disclosed his speeches and has only given two paid speeches for $1,867.42. That is now being compared to the estimate that Bill and Hillary Clinton have made $153 million for speeches from 2001 to her announcement for the presidency. While this is just a one year period, Sanders has a lot of room to make up to reach $153 million. That is not to say that the campaign cannot argue that Sanders in the pocket of these two groups but it is clearly a very, very small pocket.
It is also being reported that Clinton was the one who insisted that the transcripts be made by her hosts and handed over to her total control. What I honestly do not understand is why the Clinton campaign continues to fit disclosures despite the failure of that strategy in prior scandals like the email scandal. Various sites have started petitions with thousands of signatures to get Clinton to release the transcripts. It would seem inevitable that she will have to release the speeches but will now be viewed as fighting any review by the public. I am interested in whether people believe that this position will be sustainable in light of the worsening environment for Clinton in the primary.
After promising to “look into” the release of the transcripts, Clinton refused to release them or to explain why shouldn’t the public be able to read what she told such private groups. After all, polling shows this to be a major concern of voters and Clinton has characterized what she has told the groups. Clinton responded by setting this standard as the precondition to even “look into it further”:
“Let everybody who has ever given a speech to any private group under any circumstances release them and we will all release them at the same time. I don’t mind being the subject in Republican debates, the subject in the Democratic primary. It goes with the territory. At somepoint, you know, these rules need to apply to everybody. And there are a bunch of folks, including my opponent who has given, you know has given speech, speeches to groups and people on the other side who have given speeches to groups. If this is a new standard, it should apply to everybody. Then I’ll be happy to look into it further.”
It is hard to even fathom the satisfaction of a precondition of “everybody who has ever given a speech to any private group under any circumstances.” The fact is no other candidate has amassed such a fortune for such speeches in this race (with over $21 million from Wall Street alone) — most particularly her actual opponent in the Democratic race.
Sanders netted of $1,867.42 for two paid speeches and a television appearance last year. His highest paying gig? A spot on comedian Bill Maher’s HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher” in November worth $850. That leaves his highest hourly rate as $850 versus $200,000 . . . and it was public. In 2014, Sanders had a minimum net worth of $169,025 with at least $25,002 in credit card debt.
What is interesting is that I would be surprised if Clinton said anything truly horrific in such speeches given her highly controlled and careful statements. Clinton has been criticized for being incredibly scripted in her comments and it would seem highly out of character to have a Romney moment like the videotape released in the last presidential election from a private speech. Most Democrats thought it was a good thing that Romney’s 47 percent comment was captured and released as reflective of his views. The same view would seem to argue for disclosure in this case. What is interesting is that, given Clinton’s statement that her straight-talk led to Wall Street not giving her money, it would be highly damaging just to see Clinton being chummy with these groups. The campaign seems to be preparing for that disclosure through surrogates in the media saying that such speeches often involve acknowledgments of “friends” as a courtesy. The campaign may correctly view the public as less willing to dismiss such friendly exchanges from a candidate who has made a fortune from speeches with banks and firms. However, reports are trickling out that suggest that Clinton was more than chummy, including one that said that Clinton “sounded more like a Goldman Sachs managing director.”
In the end, I believe that it would be good for all candidates for the presidency to release any transcripts to business groups and private groups as a rule. When you are campaigning for votes from the American people, there is a reasonable expectation of transparency, particularly to groups with financial interests in government policy. The question however is whether Clinton should be able to wait for all candidates to release all speeches, even those who are not running for the Democratic nomination.
Do you believe that Clinton should release the transcripts or do you agree that it is only fair that every candidate — including the Republicans — release their speeches as a precondition?