WASHINGTON – 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 $225,000 for each speech and goaded her for declining to release transcripts.
“If somebody gets paid $225,000 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 $225,000 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 $21.6 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 fulfil 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.”
Despite months of controversy over her speeches to Wall Street patrons, Clinton’s biggest rewards came from Washington’s trade associations, the lobbying groups that push aggressively for industry interests. Trade groups paid Clinton more than $7.1 million, the review showed.
The National Association of Realtors spent $38.5 million on government contacts in 2013, the same year it paid Clinton $225,000 to appear at the group’s gathering in San Francisco. A group spokesman said Clinton was among former U.S. officials invited to share their experiences but said she was not paid as part of its lobbying activities.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents biotech and pharmaceutical firms, spent between $7 million and $8.5 million annually on lobbying since 2008, including contacts with the State Department — during Clinton’s tenure — on the agency’s biotech discussions with foreign governments. The trade group, which hosted Clinton for $335,000 at its event in San Diego in June 2014, has won more than $425,000 in federal payments since 2008 in work for the National Science Foundation and other agencies. The group did not respond to phone calls or emails for comment from AP.
The financial services and investment industry accounted for about $4.1 million of Clinton’s earnings. Its ranks included not only Wall Street powerhouses like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Corp., but also private equity and hedge funds like Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. LP and Apollo Global Management LLC and foreign-owned banks such as Deutsche Bank AG and the Canada Imperial Bank of Commerce. Goldman Sachs, which gave Clinton $675,000 for three speeches in 2013, and Morgan Stanley, which paid her $225,000 for one speech the same year, both spent millions lobbying the U.S. during Clinton’s term at the State Department.
Nearly three dozen of Clinton’s benefactors spent more than $1 million annually on contacts with officials and Congress during the same year they paid her to appear at their corporate or association events, according to federal lobbying records. Many earned millions more in government contracts — indications of the regulatory and policy stances the groups might advocate during a Clinton presidency.
General Electric, which paid her $225,000 for a speech in Boca Raton, Florida, in January 2014, has the most extensive government portfolio. GE has spent between $15.1 million and $39.2 million annually on lobbying. The company has won nearly $50 million in government work since 2008, including $1.7 million from the State Department for lab equipment and data processing during Clinton’s tenure. The firm also lobbied the State Department all four years under Clinton on issues including trade and Iran sanctions.
As secretary of state, Clinton visited a GE aviation facility in Singapore and touted the State Department’s role aiding GE industrial and military deals abroad. Clinton met with GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt once about the agency’s efforts to salvage a planned business exposition in Shanghai and also talked with him by phone, according to her calendars.
A GE spokeswoman said, “GE works closely with the U.S. government and State Department, which often advocates for U.S. exporters.”
Clinton sought to defuse the issue of her Wall Street speeches during a February debate with Sanders by explaining that she “spoke to heart doctors, I spoke to the American Camping Association, I spoke to auto dealers, and, yes, I spoke to firms on Wall Street.”
Even the sponsors Clinton cited in her defence engaged in public advocacy — an indication of how many might seek favours if Clinton were elected.
The Cardiovascular Research Foundation, a fundraising group for cutting-edge heart medicine, paid Clinton $275,000 for a speech in Washington in September 2014. That same year, the organization joined other medical and health care groups in urging the Federal Drug Administration to reconsider its generic labeling rules. Foundation spokeswoman Irma Damhuis said Clinton was invited as a “recognized thought leader,” adding that “decisions on keynote speakers are made without a political agenda.”
The National Automobile Dealers Association paid Clinton $325,000 for a convention speech in New Orleans in January 2014. That same year, the trade group spent $3.2 million lobbying federal officials on taxes, automotive and trucking issues, labour and finance. A spokesman said the group’s lobbying and convention activities were separate.
The camping group also paid for lobbying in recent years, including $40,000 in 2015 on Transportation Department administrative actions, according to federal records. The group’s New York and New Jersey affiliate paid Clinton $260,000 for a March 2015 speech in Atlantic City.
Deirdre Petting, an executive with the national group, said its lobbying was separate from the affiliate’s decision to invite Clinton for the event.