When Hillary Clinton packed up her office on the seventh floor of the State Department after four years as President Obama’s top diplomat, few thought it was her last act as a public official.
But being a private citizen allowed her to hang out a shingle, offering to make speeches for six-figure paychecks from companies and associations with lobbyists working on federal issues that are certain to confront Clinton should she re-enter public life by winning the White House in 2016.
Naturally, there were plenty of takers. In all, Clinton made $10.2 million from 45 speeches in 2014, her first full year out of office, according to her May 15 financial disclosure. Of that, almost $4.6 million came from clients with lobbying shops looking to shape policy on issues as varied as taxes, trade policy, financial regulation and health care. In many cases, Clinton agreed to answer questions onstage as part of the payment, ensuring that she was briefed on issues of concern to the executives writing her paychecks.
“It’s big money. They’re spending it because they have far greater sums riding on those decisions that they’re trying to shape,” says Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the money-tracking Center for Responsive Politics. “Every man or woman on the street thought Hillary Clinton would run again.”
At a rate of thousands of dollars per minute, Clinton spoke to groups that represent biotech researchers, auto dealers and manufacturing titans. In all, groups that Clinton was paid to address spent $72.5 million on federal lobbyists in 2014, according to data compiled by Krumholz.
Days after making her paydays public, Clinton faced questions during a campaign swing in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Asked if there were conflicts of interest in taking money from the groups, she had a ready answer: “No.”
“Obviously,” Clinton continued, “Bill and I have been blessed and we’re very grateful for the opportunities that we had, but we’ve never forgotten where we’ve come from.” Since leaving office in 2001, Bill Clinton has made $82.8 million giving similar speeches, allowing the couple to amass significant wealth, which they have reported as falling between $11 million and $53 million.
Executives for several of the outfits that hired Hillary Clinton also gave money to support her presidential campaign in waiting, Ready for Hillary, and her family’s philanthropy, the Clinton Foundation. The technology company Qualcomm, for instance, paid Clinton $125,000 for a speech in San Diego, and its executives sent $50,250 to Ready for Hillary. Salesforce.com paid Clinton $451,000 total to address the tech company twice in 2014; separately, its executives gave Ready for Hillary $55,250. And the technology company Cisco, based in San Jose, Calif., paid Clinton $325,000 for a speech in Las Vegas and spent nearly $3.5 million lobbying in 2014. That same year, Cisco made another donation to the Clinton Foundation, bringing its cumulative total to somewhere between $1 million and $5 million.
In addition to other issues, those three companies all happen to be enthusiastic supporters of a trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Clinton supported as Secretary of State but has yet to express an opinion on as a presidential candidate. In all, organizations that are seeking broadened trade, an issue that is likely to land on the next President’s desk, spent almost $3 million to hear from Clinton.
The speaking windfall violated no laws, but it is certain to be used by Republicans and maybe even Democratic rivals to challenge the populist themes that Clinton is building her campaign on. “The deck is stacked for those at the top,” Hillary said on her swing through Iowa. “I am running a campaign that is very clearly stating we want to reshuffle that deck.”
Former government officials often hit the speaking circuit or write memoirs, though few re-enter public life later in their careers. Clinton’s predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, earned $150,000 for some of her speeches after her four years as Secretary of State under Republican President George W. Bush.
“What’s new is that you may come back to office,” says Larry Noble, a former counsel to the Federal Election Commission. “If she had retired after being Secretary of State, there’d be much less issue with it.”
This appears in the June 01, 2015 issue of TIME.
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