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What’s Wrong With Obama Getting $400,000 For A Speech?

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What’s Wrong With Obama Getting $400,000 For A Speech?


Reports that Barack Obama will receive $400,000 for a speech at a Wall Street health conference have produced some violent finger-wagging by populists on the left. “Distasteful,” Bernie Sanders called it. Elizabeth Warren is “troubled,” citing concern about “the influence of money” in politics.

Let’s unpack this nonsense. First off, Obama’s current job title is former politician. As president, he pushed the passage of Dodd-Frank, the Wall Street reforms despised by many in this paying audience. So where’s the quid pro quo?

Secondly, perhaps — just perhaps — someone of Obama’s stature may turn the influence tables around and change the thinking of the money people. Could you imagine Obama sabotaging his greatest triumph, a health insurance system now bearing his name, for even that kind of money?

Most regard the “revolving door” with disgust. Industries’ hiring the politicians who helped them while in office is indeed disturbing and troubling. A paid speech, however, is a one-time deal, not a posh lobbying job.

Frankly, I can’t see writing a $400,000 check for anyone’s speech, but if other deeper pockets want to, that’s their business. LeBron James makes almost $400,000 a game, and he has 82 games in the regular season. (That does bother me, because I pay part of it through my inflated cable bill.)

Sanders’ snapping at Obama for accepting this nicely paid gig seems a replay of his successful and unfair attacks on Hillary Clinton over her speeches to Wall Street. Like Obama today, Clinton held no political office at the time. In addition, she had also supported tightening Dodd-Frank.

More to the point, the financial industry is a major employer in New York, the state she represented in the Senate. As senator from Vermont, Sanders backed the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, despite its many billions in cost overruns, because it employed a lot of Vermonters.

Asked why a peace-loving senator would support a military boondoggle, Sanders responded pragmatically: “What are my options as a senator? … If I said ‘no’ to the F-35 coming to Burlington, for Vermont National Guard, where would it go? … South Carolina?”

As senator from Massachusetts, Warren has worked tirelessly to kill the tax on medical devices, which helps pay for Obamacare. Guess which state has a large medical devices industry.

I don’t begrudge either Sanders or Warren for taking care of constituents, thus reassuring re-election. And Wall Street’s harmful stranglehold on much of our economy is indisputable. But the military-industrial complex and big medicine are not exactly small players, either.

One admires Sanders, an independent, for pushing the Democratic Party to broaden its appeal to purple parts of the country at the risk of displeasing some core followers. But one would also welcome a little humility on his part when judging others for doing essentially what he does. (One thing he wouldn’t do was release his tax returns, and many wonder why.)

And though the financiers at Goldman Sachs are not exactly curing cancer, they are often quite progressive on environmental and social matters. Some, such as Gary Cohn, head of President Trump’s National Economic Council, are Democrats and moderating influences.

Again, this is not to dismiss the dangers of letting Wall Street romp unsupervised. Rather, Wall Street is better engaged with than mindlessly demonized.

As for the revolving door, that refers to politicians moving from the outside to inside an industry for a prosperous stay — not a two-hour visit. If after 20 grueling years in public service Obama wants to pick up some financial security by giving speeches, call off the dogs and let him be.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers. Media Matters ranks her column 20th nationally in total readership and 14th in large newspaper concentration. Harrop has been a guest on PBS, MSNBC, Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent voice on NPR and talk radio stations in every time zone as well.

A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary in 2004 and again in 2011, Harrop was also a Scripps Howard Award finalist for commentary in 2010. She has been honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has given her five awards.

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  1. Thoughtopsy May 1, 2017

    I have no issues with a past President making money from books, and speaking engagements. I would assume that if they want to continue to try to shape events, or promote their ongoing vision, that would be the way to do it.

    I believe its pretty much tradition by now.
    Isn’t that what every single ex-president has done up to this point?

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    2. Just A Citizen May 2, 2017


      It started with Clinton.

      The others pretty much stayed out of the lime light because that is a tradition of the office. Even Carter limited his interjections into politics.

      1. Bill P May 2, 2017

        No it didn’t start with Clinton, former presidents Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush all received money for making speeches after leaving the White House. Reagan was paid $2 million for giving 2 speeches in Japan. All of the former presidents in recent times have make money this way.

        1. Just A Citizen May 2, 2017

          God you people are a bunch of hard headed folks. You going to compare the millions upon millions Clinton parlayed to what the rest did??

          Sorry, your rationalizing is beyond toleration.

          1. Bill P May 3, 2017

            Sorry but your inaccurate comment is as usual ignoring anything that a Republican former president did. Reagan gave 2 speeches in Japan for the price of $2 million. He did this before Clinton was even in office as president. Your comments just show your lack of the facts and a strong bias against any Democrat. Your original comment was “It started with Clinton”. This statement is incorrect, Reagan and GHW Bush both made speeches for money before Clinton did.

      2. Eleanore Whitaker May 2, 2017

        No it did not start with Clinton. Where the hell have YOU been? Politicians are always paid a stipend for their speeches at colleges and universities.

        In fact, Nixon accepted a stipend for his speech at his own college. See any collusion in that do you?

        1. Just A Citizen May 2, 2017


          The comment was not about stipends. It was about CAPITALIZING the Presidency once out of office.

          And Clinton absolutely was the first to do this in modern times.

          1. Eleanore Whitaker May 2, 2017

            Sorry but you are wrong. President Obama did NOT EVER capitalize on the presidency in office or out.

            When you are asked to be a speaker by a specific group, why would YOU DARE expect any past president to refuse to accept payment for his speech?

            Clinton was not the first either. As other posters pointed out, Reagan, Bush ’41 and Bush ’43 ALL capitalized on their presidencies by doing the very same thing.

            What on earth are you trying to say? That President Obama’s presidency is so very different from Reagan’s, Bush 41 and Bush 43 that it’s okay for them to be paid for speeches but not Obama?

            Clinton was NOT the first. From Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/2008/03/18/trump-reagan-blair-biz-media-cx_lh_0318speeches.html.

            Clinton, however, was paid the most. Now you can stop trying to use the word “capitalize” on Obama as if it is some kind of criminal act. Look at Trump for your need to try and smear Obama.

      3. FireBaron May 2, 2017

        I guess you never heard of guys named Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt or Herbert Hoover, all of whom were paid for doing things (writing books, giving speeches) as former presidents. Oh, yeah, all three were Republicans, too!
        Consider this – Eisenhower really didn’t want the job when he got the nomination. Like Harry Truman, when he retired, he retired.
        Johnson was visibly aged by his tenure in the White House and rode off into the sunset.
        Nixon was poison pill. Who would pay him to give a speech? What would he speak about? Honesty?
        Ford was dealing with his and his wife’s health.
        Carter was such a joke when he was in, he spent his post career building houses and trying to win the Nobel Peace Prize for the Middle East.
        Reagan already had Alzheimer’s setting in, and Nancy didn’t want him over exposed.
        Pappy Bush burned too many bridges to get speaking gigs.
        So realistically, Bill Clinton was the first President since Hoover who actually got paid to speak after he left the office. Although in Hoover’s case it took close to 20 years before he was NOT a poison pill speaker. Ironically enough. Clinton is the same age as Dubya, and he and Bush Senior have worked on many public and private projects together.
        As for Dubya, well, he decided to keep a low profile primarily to allow Jeb to start showing himself. That didn’t work out too well, did it.

        1. Just A Citizen May 2, 2017


          First of all, I assumed we were talking about readers direct memory, as in modern times.

          The real difference with Clinton was it did not stop with paid speeches or seats on a Board of Directors. The Clintons, along with Gore, masterminded the NGO movement as a means of building their personal wealth. I expect the model will be repeated with the Obamas.

  2. Wollongong Wattle May 1, 2017

    I was an ardent supporter of Senator and President Obama, so his acceptance of an exorbitant payment for a single speech is deeply saddening. His action implicitly improves the public image of this undeserving Wall Street financial sector’s super-rich and their appallingly wasteful legions of lobbyists.

    If Obama had announced from the outset that his speaking fee would be donated to charity, this would be harmful enough, but for Murdoch’s Evil Empire, Steve Bannon’s, Limbaugh’s and all their diabolical ilk this will be a “gift that keeps on giving”. They will be able to false-equivalence until the cash cows come home about Trump’s egregious greed by bloviating that Obama’s raking in multiples of the annual middle-class wage for a brief appearance simply constitutes the typical hypocrisy of Democratic Party leaders. In other words, the right-wingers will be screaming that Democratic politicians secure the champagne treatment for themselves, while the insecure working class who’ve traditionally voted for them are just struggling to keep their heads above the fracking-gas poisonous water.

    1. Independent1 May 1, 2017

      Sorry, you can be saddened all you want, but the fact is, that what President Obama is doing is a common practice for politicians and other celebrities. It happens thousands of times a year. And exactly why would you be asking someone who has the drawing power of a president to forego the opportunity to do so??

      Are you simply against people creating a more secure future for themselves? You have to realize, that the event Obama will be speaking at, will probably be costing whomever is putting it on millions of dollars, and I couldn’t care less who that is, so that Obama’s speaking fee will be dwarfed by the overall cost of the event. And the main purpose of having Obama speak, is not necessarily to have him totally endorse whomever is putting it on, but in the vast majority of instances, the company is using him as a strong drawing name, to ensure as many employees as possible choose to attend the gathering. Of course, they’re hoping he does in fact, come out with an interesting speech.

      Or are you one of those who thinks somehow the 400,000 is payoff for something? Given that he is now out of office, exactly what would that be a payoff for? (Sorry if I sound snarky, but I’m just fed up to my ears with these right-wing hypocritical bigots using every opportunity they can find to try and foist even negatives on President Obama.)

      1. Wollongong Wattle May 2, 2017


        I’m 100% in synch with your being “fed up to my ears with these right-wing hypocritical bigots using every opportunity they can find to try and foist even negatives on President Obama.”
        Thanks for your cogent and courteous response to my viewpoints regarding how the Manure Mountain (to paraphrase John Stewart) of the Murdoch Evil Empire and their ilk would be able to propagandize about this $4K speech.

        Nothing can diminish my boundless appreciation that Obama was the most admirable, erudite and masterly president of my voting lifetime, commencing during Ike’s second term. I served in Vietnam with and have maintained close contacts with buddies in Australia, and doubtless there are numerous other countries whose citizenry consistently rated President Obama in their opinion polls at way higher levels of respect than his own constituents did until his final year. Now, with stunned disbelief and trepidation, they write to me about the Trump Circus currently being perpetrated in the White House.

      2. dbtheonly May 2, 2017

        I, in this case it’s left wing hypocritical bigots, but I’m with you.

        Why shouldn’t Barack Obama, private citizen, do his best for himself and his family. One kid in college, one heading there. In his position, I’d make every dime I could.

        1. FireBaron May 2, 2017

          Exactly. Trust me – if someone was willing to give me $400K to make a speech, I would jump at it!

    2. idamag May 2, 2017

      As I said, above, Obama is working hard to clean up politics. It will not be easy and it will not be cheap. I suspect his accepting this money for a speech is a fund raiser.

      1. kep May 5, 2017

        LOL. Emperor Obama ONLY serves himself.

  3. The lucky one May 2, 2017

    Did anyone actually think Obama wouldn’t cash in on his celebrity as every other president before him has done? But please, why would anyone think that “someone of Obama’s stature may turn the influence tables around and change the thinking of the money people.” He had little to no impact on the shady dealings on Wall St. while he was in office. How would he have influence now?

    “the financiers at Goldman Sachs are not exactly curing cancer, they are often quite progressive on environmental and social matters.” Social matters maybe but progressive on the environment, that’s a bad joke.

    “unfair attacks on Hillary Clinton over her speeches to Wall Street… she had also supported tightening Dodd-Frank.” Yes and in her leaked speech she revealed how she says one thing to her donors and and something else to her constituents. Obama is no different in that regard.

    “Wall Street is better engaged with than mindlessly demonized.” It was their own actions that brought any demonization, IMO, mostly deserved. But yes they should be engaged with, when will the trials start?

    This was one of the most sycophantic articles I have ever read, worse even than the right wingers sucking up to Trump. And what the f**k does an athlete’s salary have to do with any of this?

  4. David Reno May 2, 2017

    I have no objection to Private Citizen First Class Obama making a speech for money.
    This means he will have to pay income tax, which will go to the federal government
    to administer the S.E.C.

    I support Sen. Elizabeth Warren. This is what is called a “teaching moment”.
    If the former president gives a speech to those who own the country, is there
    a better illustration of the influence of money in politics?

    I think not.

    A Bostonian

  5. bojimbo26 May 2, 2017

    So , Obama is getting $400,000 for giving a speech . Donny get $200,000 from each `guest` at Mar-a-Lago .

  6. bobnstuff May 2, 2017

    I truly believe that Obama taking Wall St. money is good for him and in fact good for those that have supported him all these years, The fact that he is getting paid like a rock star is in the right pay range since he is in fact a rock star in his own area. It shows that Wall St. respects him and it increase the likelihood of his message being heard. I’m sure Obama’s speech will be in keeping with his values and as we know he is an excellent speaker. Who knows what seeds he my plant. Also we love to demonize Wall St but they are working to make money for their investors, people who have put money away for retirement and for their children’s college. They help make money for you local governments and schools. If you have an IRA these people are working for you. The people Obama will be speaking to are not the enemy but partners of our capitalistic system.

  7. Eleanore Whitaker May 2, 2017

    The way to always look at things is to reverse the picture. What if Obama had refused to take any stipend for his speech? Sanders who is a skank himself for taking campaign donations investigated by the FEC, would be the first to turn that freebie into some “back room” scandal.

    President Obama is a PAST president and an ordinary citizen. When Trump makes deals with the Chinese and Philipines to sell his daughter’s clothing, shoes and jewelry that’s a FAR more serious thing for both Sanders and Warren to carp about.

    The reality is that ALL speakers with any public recognition are PAID for the work they present. When poet Maya Angelou presented her program at Rutgers in NJ, she was paid a stipend. John Nash, the famous 2 time Nobel Prize winner for Physics also was paid a stipend for his off campus speeches.

    But when Obama does it…well…time to cannabalize him right?

    1. idamag May 2, 2017

      Since Obama is working hard to clean up politics and do away with gerrymandering that has put our Democracy in jeopardy, I will make the assumption that is why he trying to raise money.

      1. Eleanore Whitaker May 2, 2017

        Ida! You are a genius! I think you have just figure out how Trump will be taken down. Judging from what we have seen of President Obama, he has this innate sense of “community service.”

        The only ones who ever blasted that part of his character are people who are crooks and wallow in corruption. These we ignore.

        But, your post is quite astute. Who but President Obama has the knowledge and skill to thwart the current administration’s attempts to turn democracy into autocracy?

        If there is one most impressive trait of the Obama character, it is his tactical timing. He has this unusual ability to make the toughest decisions for all of the people in almost precision timing.

        He has never failed to admit when he is wrong. Trump NEVER admits he is wrong. Obama has never failed to work closely as a member of a team. Trump believes he is the ONLY team.

        Clearly, whatever it is our most admired and respected President is working on, will no doubt take a large chunk out of the Lard Ass in Chief. The reason LAIC hates Obama.

      2. kep May 5, 2017

        LOL. Emperor Obama ONLY serves himself.

  8. Eleanore Whitaker May 2, 2017

    It’s my understanding for a college professor in literature that the way stipends are paid has to do with several things:
    . The cost of the travel for the speaker
    . The cost of accommodations if they are not provided
    . The time and research required for the material to be presented
    . Miscellaneous costs such as special equipment needed, if not provided.

  9. idamag May 2, 2017

    If Obama does it, it is automatically wrong. If a Republican violates the Constitution it becomes okay. I am surprised at Warren and Sanders. I thought they were above that sort of thing. I am sure Obama plans on using that money to clean up politics.

    1. Eleanore Whitaker May 2, 2017

      Sanders has also accepted stipends. Ask anyone in Crown Heights in Brooklyn. In fact, Sanders is as much a grifter as Trump.

  10. FT66 May 2, 2017

    Obama is at liberty to do whatever he chooses as a private citizen. He doesn’t need any permission from neither Sanders nor Warren. If these two are still eyeing on becoming president, they don’t need to take a single penny as they won’t be able to campaign. Those who call Obama to give speeches, they value highly his importance of being there. Am very proud of him and I say go for it even if they will give a million/per speech.

  11. johninPCFL May 2, 2017

    How quickly we forget. When Saint Reagan left office (after Iran-Contra, Star Wars, and dealing away our brand-new Pershing-II missile system to Gorbachev), the first paid speech he gave was in Japan for $1million ($10 million in today’s money?)

    At the time, Japan was waging a bitter trade war with us. They also had sold technology to Russia that allowed Russian ballistic missile submarines to quiet to our sonar levels, making the threat of a sea-launched nuclear attack much higher.

    1. dpaano May 2, 2017

      But, John, Reagan was a Republican….there are definitely different rules for Republicans than for Democrats!! So much for a bunch of idiotic hypocrites in the GOP!!! They need to concentrate on their OWN jobs and quit worrying about President Obama’s business! They have PLENTY to deal with!
      As for Sanders and Warren, although I generally respect them, this is kind of out of their bailiwick! They ALSO have much else to deal with than to worry about what an ex-president does now that he’s a private citizen. I’m sure that when both Warren and Sanders get to the same point, they will also be giving speeches to anyone that will pay them!

  12. dpaano May 2, 2017

    I totally agree with this article…..President Obama is now a private citizen, and as such, he can do whatever he feels like doing, even if it means making money (heaven forbid)! I can assure you that some of it is probably going to various interests that he and Michelle have and are funding. As for Bernie, he needs to stop getting in the way of the Democrats…..to my way of thinking, he is not helping the Democratic party in the least!

  13. vamrse May 3, 2017

    HEAR,HEAR…..let the man make some money, at least he is not taking our taxes and flying Melania on air force one “cuz she can’t stand to b w/POTUS, costing us I million or more a pop, supporting his entire family as they fly around the world making money for his business(Trump). leave Obama alone and let him have some fun. He has done his service and then some. I miss you Barack and Michelle.

    1. kep May 4, 2017

      UNLIKE Emperor Obama, who, during HIS government shutdown, when there was not enough money to keep parks or even the White house open, went on vacation to his home country of Kenya, costing AMERICAN taxpayers billions of US dollars.
      I miss the Emperor and his ilk too. I would very much like to see him and his regime hanging from the rotunda of Congress. A public execution of traitors would keep other frauds from trying the same as Obama.

      1. vamrse May 5, 2017

        So Kep..the fact that Trump is robbing us each day with his traveling to his spa and playing golf and getting richer with his son’s opening businesses w/our tax does not alarm you? SAD!!!!!

        1. kep May 5, 2017

          Your Emperor spent BILLIONS on golf and lavish vacations.

  14. vamrse May 5, 2017

    Kep are you for real?……learn the truth or are you one that no matter how wrong you are u will keep saying what you think is the truth ..again SAD!!! your ADD Emperor’s words


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