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Yes, Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees are high—but only compared with other women

AP Photo/Gaston De Cardenas
Don’t hate me because I’m this powerful.
By Sonali Kohli
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The Washington Post obtained university records showing that the University of Missouri at Kansas City passed up Hillary Clinton’s $275,000 speaking price tag for a gala luncheon last February celebrating the opening of a women’s hall of fame. Instead, it offered an hour-long gig to Chelsea Clinton, for a mere $65,000.

University officials were so surprised at Hillary’s fee that one wrote “Yikes!” in an email, the Washington Post reports. But her offer might actually be considered a steal, compared with what the country’s most prominent men charge to grace the podium at big events.

There aren’t many women who even make it into the tallies of America’s highest paid speakers, based on the smattering of media reports that have gathered this kind of intel. Granted, Hillary Clinton’s fees are at the high end of the spectrum even for men, especially for a speaking engagement at a public university, but that shouldn’t be surprising, considering that she has served as US secretary of state, first lady, and now as the country’s front-running democratic presidential candidate.

It’s worth noting that the speakers listed below often charge big banks and companies more than universities, so the fees aren’t all directly comparable. And while public speaking is a lucrative business that funds many a former politician, many also donate certain speaking fees to philanthropies (for instance, the proceeds of Hillary’s university engagements go to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation).

Reported speech earnings of prominent men

Bill Clinton: According to the Washington Post, the former president “earned more than $16.3 million for 72 speeches” in 2012. That’s an average of around $226,000 per speech, and CNN reports he was once paid $750,000 for a speech to telecom firm Ericsson in Hong Kong.

Tim Geithner: According to the Financial Times, the former US treasury secretary was paid roughly $200,000 (paywall) for a speaking engagement at Deutsche Bank in 2014.

Ben Bernanke: The former Fed chairman left his government job and started charging his annual government salary to appear at single events. As of May 2014 he charged “fees that range from $200,000 in the United States and $400,000 for engagements in Asia,” according to the New York Times.

Larry Summers: The former treasury secretary charged Yale only $10,000, but took $135,000 from Goldman Sachs in 2008 or 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Al Gore: Bloomberg reported in 2013 that after Gore won the Nobel prize he was asking for $175,000 in speaker fees.

Donald Trump: Trump reportedly earned $1.5 million per speech for a series of seminars in a private online learning company’s “real estate wealth expos,” Forbes reports. That was in 2006 and 2007, though. In light of recent news, his star power may be decreasing.

Reported speech earnings of prominent women

Below are some of the few women who have made it into the male-dominated ranks of highest paid speakers in the country. Even the highest sums here are notably less than similar engagements by the men above.

Condoleezza Rice: The former US secretary of state collected $150,000 from the University of Minnesota, (thankfully, that’s more than Matthew McConaughey made to speak at a university’s commencement).

Sarah Palin: When the former Alaska governor had just wrapped up her run as a vice presidential candidate, she commanded $100,000, Politico reports.

Katie Couric: While not a former political figure, Couric did make waves for reportedly collecting $110,000 from the University of Oklahoma for a speaking gig in 2006.

Chelsea Clinton: Missouri may actually have gotten Clinton at a discount, since she charges up to $75,000, the New York Times reports.

The Post reports the University of Missouri also considered other women with lower price tags instead of Hillary or Chelsea Clinton, including “feminist icon Gloria Steinem ($30,000) and journalists Cokie Roberts ($40,000), Tina Brown ($50,000) and Lesley Stahl ($50,000).”

One could argue that Steinem, Roberts, Brown, and Stahl don’t carry the star power or political weight of the men who’ve made it to the top in public speaking. That begs a deeper question about the dearth of women in positions of power. Hillary, however, has managed to break that mold—both in power and pay.

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