Amid much scrutiny of her recent wealth-related gaffes, two top student government leaders at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) have reached out to Hillary Clinton and have requested her to return the “outrageous” fee of $225,000 that she is reportedly going to receive for speaking at an upcoming UNLV event. Clinton will be giving the keynote speech at an Oct. 13 fundraiser and will be paid by the UNLV Foundation Board of Trustees. According to the Board, the fee is being covered through private sponsorships. Clinton, who is a potential Democratic candidate for the 2016 presidential election, has recently been in the news for making controversial statements about her family’s extreme wealth.
Elias Benjelloun, the university’s student body president, and Daniel Waqar, the student government’s PR director, can be seen in a video being circulated by the Republican National Party, where they sound off about the large speaking fee being set aside for Clinton. Waqar told Ralston Reports, a Nevada-based political program that while the students appreciated Clinton’s fundraising potential, $225,000 as speaking fee for a few hours of her presence, was excessive. Agreeing with his colleague, Benjelloun hoped that Clinton would act upon her commitment to higher education and return all or part of the payment to the university.
The event is an invitation-only gala aimed at high net worth philanthropists and donors, who support the university. A seat at the dining table will cost $200 per person. But guests can purchase full tables of 10 at different contribution levels, from $3000 to $20,000. The highest buy of $20,000 garners the guest an invitation to a chef’s reception, autographed copies of her new book, and four photo sessions with the potential first woman president of the United States.
The high fee for the speaking engagement is especially galling to UNLV students because structured tuition rate hikes have nearly tripled academic costs at the university since 2004. A recent decision formalized by the university a few weeks back will result in a 4 per cent tuition increase for each of the next four years.
Given that high tuitions and increasing student debt are the leading cause for financial stresses being faced by Americans all across the country, Clinton’s astronomical fees and her recent comments during promotion events on the media circuit for her book, Hard Choices, have raised many an eyebrow.
In a recent televised interview just before the June 10 release of her book, she told ABC’s Diane Sawyer that President Clinton and she had “…came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.” Calling it a difficult time, Clinton said that they had to struggle to “…piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education.” This was followed by her claim that she and her husband paid regular income tax much like most regular Americans, which made them unlike “a lot of people who are truly well off.” Her claims were met with disbelief and mockery on both sides of the political aisle.
Clinton’s defense of the massive wealth they have accumulated since leaving the White House, along with the news that the couple’s daughter, Chelsea was being paid $600,000 a year at NBC News for infrequent appearances as a special correspondent, did not sit well with many Americans, much like the UNLV students and their leaders who asked Clinton to return the $225,000 speaking fees.
While Clinton is are far from being a billionaire, she and her husband are the wealthiest living former first couple in the United States. With stately homes in Washington, D.C. and upstate New York, along with a posh apartment in New York City, and multi-million dollar speaking engagements, the Clintons are easily placed among the much talked about top 1 percent of the country.
Given her high net-value and the overwhelming problem of income inequality that is plaguing the country, the juxtaposing of these two components could haunt Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign. While Clinton can hope that she will be able to convince voters that she is not “part of the [income inequality] problem,” the erstwhile First Lady would be well advised to listen to what the student leaders are asking and return the $225,000 speaking fee to the university.
Opinion by Monalisa Gangopadhyay