The spotlight is back on Hillary Clinton’s finances.
A group of students at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) is asking the former secretary of state – and presumed 2016 presidential frontrunner-- to give back a $225,000 speaking fee she is set receive for appearing at a school fundraiser this fall.
The uncomfortable request comes as Clinton’s personal wealth is being scrutinized following a series of clumsy remarks – that her family was “dead broke” upon leaving the White House and that she and husband Bill Clinton aren’t “truly well-off” compared to the richest Americans. Clinton, whose family is worth tens of millions, has since conceded the comments were “inartful,” but her opponents on the right have pounced, pointing to the interviews as evidence that she’s out of touch with ordinary people.
The UNLV student government has started a petition and writes on its Facebook page that while they welcome Clinton on campus, “no one should receive nearly a quarter million dollars to speak at a fundraiser aimed to improve the University. With tuition going up by 17% the private sponsorship bringing Clinton here could go toward something much more long lasting to the University.”
The university announced this week that Clinton would keynote the UNLV Foundation’s annual dinner, characterized as a “prominent philanthropic event in Las Vegas, honoring individuals and organizations that advance UNLV’s mission through their generous private support.” Attendees will fork over a minimum of $200 per ticket to the event at the Bellagio hotel on Oct. 13. The event will be financed by the UNLV Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps raise money to award scholarships to students.
Still, the student government group argues "regardless of the source of the funds, we think it is important to speak on behalf of the thousands of students who benefit from the funds raised by the UNLV Foundation, and ask Secretary Clinton to do what is right: donate the money back to the UNLV Foundation and have it enrich thousands of students and faculty members on campus." As of Wednesday, just 83 people had signed the petition.
A spokesman for Clinton did not respond to requests for comment, but the money is reportedly going to the Clinton Foundation and not directly to the former secretary of state. No other Clinton speeches affiliated with universities have been announced.
Of course, Clinton, who no longer holds public office, is entitled to make money any way she pleases. But coupled with her rhetorical fumbles on wealth, the optics here may be troublesome. If Clinton keeps pocketing six-figure checks for speaking engagements -- and young Americans demand that she stop -- it could hurt her with inequality-focused Democratic voters should she run for president in 2016.
Republicans have predictably seized on Clinton’s speaking fee at UNLV. Tim Miller, executive director of Republican political action committee America Rising, blasted it as an “absurdity.” The Republican National Committee said in a statement that Clinton’s speaking fee is “more than four times what the average Nevadan makes in a year.”
Since leaving the State Department in February 2013, Clinton has delivered at least 90 speeches, including at a handful at universities. She was paid for at least two dozen of the speeches.
In March, Clinton was paid $300,000 (via a private endowment for a lecture series) to speak at the University of California Los Angeles. Spokespeople at Hamilton College in New York, Colgate University and University of Miami confirmed to msnbc that Clinton was recently paid for her speeches at their schools but would not disclose how much. Vige Barrie, a senior director of media relations at Hamilton College stressed the money to pay Clinton came from a private endowment established by donors to host speakers at the school. Similarly, Clinton’s appearance at Colgate was funded through a global lecture series, paid for by relatives of students and alumni.
The former first lady has given unpaid speeches at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and St. Andrew University in Scotland.
The good news for Clinton is despite her recent stumbles, the majority of Americans still believe she can relate to average Americans just as well as other 2016 hopefuls.
According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg survey released Sunday, 55% said they believe Clinton can relate to the problems of everyday citizens. Meanwhile, 37% said Clinton isn’t as relatable as other potential candidates.
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri told msnbc last week that Clinton simply “needs to be comfortable that [she and husband Bill Clinton have] made a lot of money.” She added, “It’s very American, making a lot of money. Many of our modern-day presidents have made a lot of money, so I don’t thinks he needs to be defensive about that,” and suggested Clinton should instead be emphasizing her previous support for policies that have benefited the middle class.