Bill & Hillary Clinton earn $25 million: Does that matter politically?

Hillary and Bill Clinton earned more than $30 million since January 2014, with $25 million coming from more than 100 paid speeches the couple gave over 16 months.

John Locher/AP Photo/File
In this May 5, 2015, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at an event at Rancho High School, Tuesday, May 5, 2015, in Las Vegas. Clinton and former President Bill Clinton reported Friday, May 15, 2015, they earned more than $25 million combined in speaking fees since January 2014.

Hillary and Bill Clinton have earned more than $30 million since January 2014, according to Mrs. Clinton’s financial disclosure form, made public by multiple news organizations Saturday.

About $25 million came from more than 100 paid speeches that the couple gave over 16 months, while another $5 million came from royalties and an advanced payment for Clinton’s memoir, “Hard Choices.”

News of her big earnings could compound a branding problem for Clinton as she begins her 2016 campaign. Critics have called out the couple on their exorbitant speaking fees, which, based on Clinton’s financial disclosure form, went as high as $330,000 for a single appearance. (San Diego-based tech firm Qualcomm Inc. footed that particular bill last fall.)

But plenty of ex-politicians – red and blue – are no strangers to the cash machine that is the speaker circuit.

While campaigning for the presidency in 2007, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani earned more than $9 million in speaking fees within 13 months, The Washington Post reported. Former vice president Al Gore got paid more than $150,000 for a half-hour speech at a 2007 fundraiser in London's Royal Courts of Justice, according to MSN.  And former president George W. Bush raked in $15 million within two years of leaving office, averaging about $110,000 per speech, Yahoo! News reported.

Wealthy candidates run for office all the time, too. The Clintons are tied at sixth in a list of wealthiest politicians to bid for the presidency, but their combined net worth is a drop in the bucket compared to businessman Ross Perot, who was reportedly worth $4.3 billion when he ran for president in 1992 and 1996.

Secretary of State John Kerry was worth about $280 million at the time of his presidential bids, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was worth about $220 million in 2012.

Clinton’s problem, some experts say, lies less in her significant income than in public perceptions about her character: She does not exude the authenticity that is increasingly crucial to winning today’s voters, top marketing consultant Martha Pease wrote in an op-ed for CNN.

“Among consumers today, authenticity means more to success than at any other time in the history of brands,” Ms. Pease wrote. “The desire for authenticity is a tangible driver of revenue… people want to give their money to brands – political as well as commercial – that have a set of values they can also buy into.”

Recent events have done the opposite for the Clinton brand. Her financial disclosure comes on the heels of an e-mail scandal and of reports of foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation during her term as secretary of state.

Less than a year ago, she told reporters that she and her husband had been “dead broke” and in debt when they left the White House in 2001. Republicans called the statement laughable and, in a fact-checking article, Politifact deemed it “mostly false.”

Since then, public trust around Clinton appears to have declined: A Quinnipiac University survey released last month found that more than half of voters said the former secretary of state is not honest and trustworthy, with less than 40 percent saying otherwise.

“Those are not great numbers for a presidential candidate,” The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Grier pointed out.

Still, the same survey found that Clinton remains the top nominee choice for 60 percent of Democrats – well ahead of Vice President Joe Biden, in second place. At the same time, Mr. Grier wrote, “‘trustworthy’ is a loaded survey word.” He continued:

It implies that maybe there’s something about this person you should know. The more general query is whether you have a favorable opinion of this politician or not, and Clinton’s numbers there don’t appear to be affected.

In the Quinnipiac survey Clinton’s favorable rating is 46 percent positive, higher than the trustworthy measure. This is in line with other polls. The HuffPost Pollster average has her favorability at 47.4 percent favorable, 47.2 percent unfavorable. That’s about where it’s been since November of 2013.

At this point in the race, the best course of action for the Clinton brand would likely be to take care how they approach the subject of money, avoiding such comments as Bill Clinton’s “I gotta pay our bills” remark when asked about their speaking fees on NBC News.

As Pease put it: “It stands to reason that any political brand – including Hillary Clinton – should look even more seriously today at how to increase its value by focusing on perceptions of its authenticity.”

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