Hillary Clinton's Wealth a Fresh Talking Point

by Associated Press  on Friday, Jun. 27, 2014 9:15 am  

Hillary Clinton

DENVER (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton is a hardworking champion of women, children and the poor. Or she's a wealthy elitist more comfortable in Davos, Switzerland, than Davenport, Iowa.

Which is it? If Clinton decides to again run for president, how voters answer that question could play a role in whether she's able to win the White House.

(Clinton is in Little Rock Friday where she is scheduled to sign copies of her new book.)

"They raised the bar on these issues with Mitt in 2012," said Ron Kaufman, a longtime adviser to former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, whose wealth and business record were targeted by Democrats. "Now their candidates for president have to get over the same bar."

Perhaps the biggest news to come from the recent launch of Clinton's memoir of her time as secretary of state isn't what the book says about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, but what she's said about her personal finances while plugging the book.

It started with an interview with ABC News in which she said she and husband Bill were "dead broke" when they left the White House in early 2001, grappling with millions of dollars in legal bills. Then there was the interview with the Britain's Guardian newspaper, in which Clinton appeared to draw a distinction by saying her family paid an "ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off."

The couple's daughter, Chelsea Clinton, was pulled into the fray when Politico reported that she earned $600,000 a year at NBC News, where she has infrequently appeared as a special correspondent.

Those statements don't mesh well with the fact the Clintons are, by almost any measure, quite wealthy, with an annual income that places them solidly among the top 1 percent of Americans. When she was secretary of state, Clinton's financial disclosure report filed in 2012 showed the couple had an estimated net worth between $5 million and $25 million.

The former first lady and New York senator is by no means a billionaire but can command $200,000 or more for a single speech — four times what the median American household takes home each year. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said Tuesday that Clinton would be paid $225,000 to speak at the university foundation's annual dinner in October.

Being rich isn't necessarily a political liability for potential presidents. Democrats Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy both entered politics after privileged upbringings. The last two Republican presidents, George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush, could vacation at the family's Maine seaside compound or at the younger president's sprawling Texas ranch.

Former President Bill Clinton, who defended his wife this week as someone who isn't "out of touch," said a president's wealth should matter less than the policies they seek to promote.

"I think I had the lowest net worth of any American president in the 20th century when I took office. But I still could have been tone deaf," Clinton said, adding: "The real issue is, if you've been fortunate enough to be successful, are you now out of touch and insensitive to the agonizing struggles other people are facing?"



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