As journalists continue to press Hillary Clinton to release the transcripts from all the paid speeches she made as a private citizen, including those made to Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs, it's helpful to keep in mind how unusual the request is. Reading the coverage you might think the transcript demand is routine for all candidates. (i.e. Why won't she just do it already?) But it's not the norm. In fact, it's the opposite of normal.
Once again separate rules have been created for Clinton, although the coverage and commentary on the transcript story is usually careful to leave that part out.
“Whether it's Mitt Romney's tax returns or Clinton's emails or Clinton's speech transcripts, 'Why won't Politician X release Document Y?' is a reliably compelling story line,” the Washington Post noted, suggesting that releasing tax returns, which most nominees do, is suddenly synonymous with releasing speech transcripts.
But if it's so common why haven't campaign reporters pressed Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Jeb Bush to release the transcripts of their paid speeches? (Or Carly Fiorina before she recently dropped out?) And previously in 2012, why weren't Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich told to do the same?
And don't forget about Rudy Giuliani. As Media Matters previously reported: “In the thirteen months directly prior to kicking off his Republican presidential campaign in February 2007, Rudy Giuliani earned more than $11 million dollars giving paid speeches.”
Not only didn't the press demand the transcripts to Giuliani's speeches, the press rarely questioned his huge speaking fee paydays, even when he was the Republican frontrunner in 2007.
Clinton recently agreed to release the transcripts if all the other candidates would do the same. But the press has essentially brushed that aside, making plain they're only interested in hers. That, despite the fact some Republicans have given paid speeches while running for office.
There's obviously nothing wrong with asking Clinton about the speeches and the large sums of money she was paid for them. It's a legitimate campaign topic of inquiry and some voters might be turned off by the big paydays. But the idea that Clinton should suddenly be held to a new disclosure standard seems odd.
We're told the circumstances are different with Clinton because she gave speeches to banks and might have said something that could be construed as embarrassing for her campaign. (i.e. The optics might be bad!) But Bush, Romney and Giuliani all cashed big speech checks from financial clients just before their White House runs, so why the double standard for the Democrat?
Well, the speeches illustrate how “cozy” Clinton is with Wall Street and how she's influenced by their money, we're also told. But is she?
Note that in 2014 Clinton gave a series of lucrative speeches paid for by a pair of Canadian banks that were aligned with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Both banks would have benefited financially from the pipeline being built. But after accepting their speaking fees, Clinton came out against the pipeline in 2015.
That's the opposite of a quid pro quo.
As Kevin Drum noted at Mother Jones, while Clinton “has hardly been a scourge of the banking industry,” it's difficult to claim she's “cozy” with Wall Street given her record:
She supported the Lilly Ledbetter Act. She supports higher taxes on the wealthy. She supported repeal of the carried interest loophole in 2007. The Boston Globe, after an extensive review of her voting record in the Senate, summed up her attitude with this quote from a lobbyist: “The financial sector viewed her as neutral. Not helpful, but also not harmful.” Citizens for Tax Justice gives her a generally favorable grade on financial issues.
Still, journalists seem focused about uncovering the transcripts for a series of speeches Clinton gave to Goldman Sachs, the idea being that the Wall Street powerhouse would only pay Clinton big bucks because they expected something in return.
But Goldman Sachs regularly brings in a wide array of speakers, including clergy, athletes, researchers, journalists, and entrepreneurs. Is Clinton the only one who received Goldman Sachs speech paychecks and was then expected to deliver favors to the company?
The whole idea that paid corporate speeches are built around the expectation of favors returned doesn't make much sense. “Paying a former secretary of state for giving a speech is what companies and associations do when they want to feel important, not when they want to influence legislation and regulations,” noted Paul Waldman at the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, The New York Times spoke to someone who attended one of those speeches [emphasis added]:
Mrs. Clinton mainly offered what one attendee called “a tour of the world,” covering her observations on China, Iran, Egypt and Russia. This person said Mrs. Clinton also discussed the dysfunction in Washington, how to repair America's standing in the world after the government shutdown and also talked a bit about the Affordable Care Act, which had had a difficult rollout.
Politico reported one attendee remembered a Clinton Goldman Sachs speech as “mostly basic stuff, small talk, chit-chat.” (That person thought the optics of the speech might not look so good today.)
And note that in 2014, Clinton addressed the Ameriprise Financial conference. According to a Boston Globe account, Clinton urged political compromise and delivered a populist message about income equality:
“We have the feeling growing in our country that the deck is stacked against the middle class, and those fighting to get into the middle class,” Clinton said, adding that the country is hobbled by “rising inequality, growth that hasn't really picked up yet, and the feeling that many Americans now have that somehow the system seems rigged against them.”
Clinton's clearly being held to a new standard. The press thinks that's fine and even celebrates it.
CORRECTION: This post originally stated that Clinton came out against the pipeline in 2014. She opposed it in 2015, after speaking to Keystone-affiliated banks.