WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton is hiring staff in Iowa and New Hampshire. She’s beefing up her press operation. She’s reaching out to Hispanic leaders.
But even as she continues ramping up a likely 2016 presidential candidacy, there’s another paid speaking stop on the books this week: The American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey.
It’s a not-for-profit organization that may be spending up to 10 percent of its $2 million budget to land Clinton for the Thursday speech in Atlantic City, if the former first lady is charging her usual fee of $200,000. The camp confirmed she would be paid for the appearance, but didn’t disclose the size of the fee. Clinton’s office declined to comment.
Her decision to squeeze in another paid address presents a public reminder of Clinton’s skillful use of her prominent profile to land whopping fees for herself and her family’s charitable empire. Her persistence in sticking to her speaking schedule, meanwhile, despite intense controversy it has generated, shows how two decades in the public spotlight seem to have inured her to much criticism.
The White House veteran and former senator and secretary of state seems intent on weathering storms with little change in course, even as she readies the launch of her expected presidential campaign as soon as next month.
This speech comes just a week after Clinton fended off a different flap, and was compelled to hold a news conference where she acknowledged using a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state and disclosed that she deleted 30,000 e-mails from that time that she deemed personal in nature. Those revelations handed critics ammunition to criticize her for a lack of transparency and accountability.
Even some fellow Democrats are scratching their heads over why Clinton would keep the speech before the summer camp organization on her schedule and give her opponents another opportunity to bash her.
The American Camping Association was founded to educate camp management and staff on “maximizing the benefits of the camp experience.” Its board of directors includes representatives from charitable groups like The Fresh Air Fund, a YMCA in Westchester, N.Y., and the Fiver Children’s Foundation.
“I would have advised her to stop doing paid speeches a while ago,” said Joe Trippi, a Democratic consultant who managed Howard Dean’s 2004 White House bid. “In a presidential campaign giving your opponents ammunition is something I wouldn’t recommend.”
Still, Trippi said the paid speeches won’t be a deciding factor for voters casting their ballots two years from now.
“The reality is if they weren’t attacking her for this right now, they’d be attacking her for something else,” he said. “In a strange way this is a pretty benign attack.”
The unease from Democrats goes beyond the beltway to the frontline activists she’ll need to rely on to generate enthusiasm for her candidacy.
“There’s enough flak floating around, why give more credence for the flak?” asked Lou D’Allesandro, a New Hampshire state senator who went door-to-door with Clinton in the Granite State during her 2008 contest.
After leaving her post as secretary of state in February 2013, Clinton attracted a barrage of criticism for making millions of dollars on the speaking circuit while mulling whether she should run for president. Speaking engagements included events sponsored by Fidelity Investments, Goldman Sachs, and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Clinton spoke at 90 events in the first 15 months after she left office and hauled in an estimated $5 million during that time, according to a review of her schedule by Mother Jones.
The most blistering criticism was directed at her for paid appearances before college audiences, a list that’s included Simmons College in Boston, Colgate University in New York, and the University of Miami in Florida.
Clinton initially asked to be paid $300,000 when she agreed to speak at the University of Nevada Las Vegas Foundation last year. She settled for $225,000, according to according to the Las Vegas Review Journal, which obtained her contract via a public records request. The terms required that the university pay for a transcript of the event and stipulated that Clinton would only pose for 50 photographs. Students there asked Clinton to donate her fee to the university.
When she appeared at the University of Buffalo in October 2013, the fee was $275,000, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit research group that did records request for the document.
Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s office, declined to comment on how much Clinton will be paid for Thursday’s speech to the summer camp group and whether Clinton took into consideration the size of the not-for-profit’s budget when she set her rate. In the past, Clinton’s fees for some of the events have been paid to her family foundation, which pairs nonprofits with corporate leaders that want to invest more in charitable work. Merrill declined to say whether the check from this speech went to the Clinton Foundation.
The American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey has both nonprofit and for-profit members and is “dedicated to preserving, promoting and enhancing the quality of the summer camp experience,” according to its website. The organization matches children with appropriate summer camps, conducts training sessions for camp staff, and holds conferences for camp managers and employees.
One of the association’s best known charitable members is the Fresh Air Fund, which had revenues of $18 million last year, according to its website. The Fresh Air Fund chairman is William Lauder, the executive chairman of cosmetics company Estee Lauder and a frequent Democratic campaign contributor. Lauder has been a featured guest at meetings of the Clinton Global Initiative, an arm of the Clinton Foundation.
Clinton will be the final speaker at the group’s Tri-State Camp Conference, an annual event billed as the “largest gathering of camp professionals in the world.” Over 3,000 are expected to attend the four-day event.
For the group, a speaker with Clinton’s prestige goes a long way to excite members and donors, said Anne Blouin, the chief learning officer at ASAE Center for Association Leadership, a trade group. “You want to do anything you can to create that buzz and hopefully increase your attendance,” she said.
She declined to comment on spending a 10th of the annual budget on a single speaker. “Obviously they think it is worth it,” she said.