George W. Bush said after bin Laden’s killing that he wanted to stay out of the public eye. But Peter H. Stone of the Center for Public Integrity'siWatch Newssays 43's becoming a high-profile figure on the buck-raking circuit.
When George W. Bushdeclined President Obama’s invitationto a ceremony at New York’s ground zero after Osama bin Laden was killed, the former president cited his desire to keep a low public profile.
But Bush has been raising his profile in a different, and lucrative, way: He has raked in millions of dollars since leaving office by making scores of speeches that typically earn him six figures a pop.
In the week after Obama’s May 5 ground zero event, the 43rd president made time for three separate speeches to hedge-fund executives, a Swiss bank sanctioned for keeping secret bank accounts, and a pro golf event underwritten by the accounting firm involved in the Tyco International financial scandal.
Bush’s standard speaking fee is reportedly between $100,000 and $150,000.
David Sherzer, a spokesman for the former president, said that since Bush left office he has delivered nearly 140 paid talks, at home and abroad. Those speeches have earned Bush about $15 million, following in thegolden pathblazed by his predecessor, Bill Clinton.
Almost all of Bush’s speeches are closed to the press. Bush uses the Washington Speakers Bureau to arrange his paid speaking gigs.
To some presidential historians, Bush’s numerous high-priced speaking engagements don’t sit well. “I find it puzzling,” said Stanford University historian Robert Dallek. “He says he wants to keep a low profile. What is he doing except enriching himself? It sounds like it’s self-serving. It’s following the good old American adage to make as much as you can.”
Other historians say Bush’s ride on the lecture circuit has become somewhat commonplace for former presidents, but is still troubling.
“It’s one thing to stay out of the public realm, which George Bush has said he wants to do,” said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. “But then he goes on the speaking circuit and makes enormous amounts of money giving lectures mostly to corporate groups and other select audiences. Some Americans can find this distasteful.”
Zelizer added: “We’re in an era where there are countless fears about money and politics. I think former presidents have to be careful about what they’re doing with their speeches. For some people it’s another version of the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street.”
Former U.S. President George W. Bush looks over the field on Opening Day at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on April 1, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Tom Pennington / Getty Images)
Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, and his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, also gave paid speeches. Reagan took heat for accepting $2 million for two speeches in Japan. But Bill Clinton took the ex-presidentiallecture circuitto a new level. He earned $65 million in speaking fees from 2001 to 2009, according to a CNN review of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s financial disclosures. That included $7.5 million from 36 speeches in 2009 alone.
"I never had any money until I got out of the White House, you know, but I've done reasonably well since then," Clinton said at a forum in South Africa last year.
In one interview as he left the White House, Bush said he planned to “replenish the ol’ coffers” by hitting the lecture circuit. Bush’s net worth at the time ranged between $6.5 million and $20 million, according to financial disclosure forms.