Hillary Clinton is under fire for accepting eye-popping speaking fees from Wall Street. For each of three speeches she made for Goldman Sachs, she received $225,000. It would take a full-time minimum wage worker nearly 15 years to make that much money.
Another way to put Clinton’s speaking fees into perspective is to take a look at how much some of the world’s most respected global visionaries and human rights champions garner for their speeches. Using sources like Washington Speakers Bureau and Speakerpedia, we found information on the fees commanded by eminent Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.
- Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani education activist who stood up to the Taliban and has survived assassination attempts for her commitment to opening access to education for Muslim girls and women, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. She makes the most from speaking fees of the Nobel Laureates we looked at, bringing in $152,000 per speech, a little over two-thirds what Clinton made in just one of her Goldman Sachs speeches.
- Elie Wiesel, recipient of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, has used his moral authority as a Holocaust survivor to crusade for the rights of other vulnerable peoples around the world, including blacks in apartheid South Africa and victims of genocide the world over. According to the Washington Speakers Bureau, his speaking fees range from $25,000 to $40,000, or about 18 percent of Clinton’s $225,000 fee.
- Bernard Kouchner, a French physician, won the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize for his work as founder of Doctors Without Borders, an organization that provides medical aid aimed at curing cholera, meningitis, and tuberculosis, assisting with births to cut down on child and maternal mortality, and performing surgeries in war zones in over 70 countries. Speakerpedia estimates that one speech from Kouchner costs $63,000—less than a third of the Clinton fee.
- Desmond Tutu, the South African Archbishop, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his significant role as a unifying figure in the fight and garnering international support against apartheid. In 1999, he made headlines for receiving $60,000 for a lecture at Kansas University. But even adjusted for inflation, that works out to just over $85,000, around 38 percent of Clinton’s fee.
Like these Nobelists, Clinton has not pocketed all her speaker fee wealth. Tax filings she released at the start of her presidential campaign indicate that she and her husband donated $15 million to charity from 2007 to 2014.
However, the disparity between the speaking fees of the Clintons and Nobel Laureates is striking. Is it because she’s just that much wiser or more inspirational than other leaders who have taken enormous personal risks to fight for a better world?
It’s hard not to wonder whether the fees instead are aimed at buying political access and power.
And since Clinton has declined to release the text of the speeches, it’s impossible to know just how much valuable wisdom they contain.
Aaron Mendelson is an Institute for Policy Studies research intern and graduate in economics and policy studies from Grinnell College.