It’s nice work if you can get it: In 2013, after stepping down as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton earned US$9.7 million in speaking fees – a lot of it from banks and investment firms, including US$675,000 for three speeches to Goldman Sachs.
Those three speeches are not on her campaign website, but it’s a pretty good bet they had a different tone than the one she is now taking. Asked about them at a New Hampshire town hall meeting this week, her response started out merely vague – “Look, I made speeches to lots of groups” – before becoming reckless: “I’m out here every day saying I’m going to shut them down, I’m going after them,” she said. “I’m going to jail them if they should be jailed. I’m going to break them up.”
By all means, criminals – in any industry, including politics – should be jailed. It’s also true that there are bad actors in the financial industry, as there are everywhere, and that Wall Street needs smarter regulations to reduce risks. Finally, it was an unscripted remark in the second half of a two-hour town hall that started at 9 p.m.
Still: Clinton’s attack was careless and overly broad. The industry that helped enrich her also plays a central role in the economy – helping families afford homes, entrepreneurs launch small businesses, governments build schools, and seniors retire comfortably. And though this shouldn’t need saying, it does, given the tenor of the presidential campaign: The vast majority of men and women who work in the industry are honest.
Like most politicians, Clinton has never been shy about asking those who work in finance for campaign contributions, and she ably represented the industry during her eight years as a senator from New York. If her views on the financial industry have changed since she accepted those millions of dollars in speaking fees, perhaps she ought to explain why. And the next time she’s invited to speak to Wall Street, perhaps she ought to decline the fee. It would be the decent thing to do.
© 2016, Bloomberg View