Bill Clinton cashes in on struggling nonprofit hospital
Gets $225,000 in speaking fees as workers laid off
By Jim McElhatton
The Washington Times
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Bill Clinton accepted a $225,000 speaking fee from the nonprofit Washington Hospital Center smack in the middle of two big rounds of layoffs in 2012 — one of a number of tax-exempt organizations that have paid big money to hear the former president talk.
The $225,000 payment wasn’t made public by the hospital on its annual Internal Revenue Service forms, but rather appeared among dozens of lucrative speeches by Mr. Clinton reported on his wife’s final ethics filing as secretary of state.
“No disrespect to Bill Clinton, but that money could’ve gone a long way and been put to better use,” said Dan Fields Jr., president of the Service Employees International Union Local 722 representing hospital workers.
“Our contract expires on June 30, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to come to the table and talk about how they’re losing money, so this concerns me greatly.”
Analysts say it’s not unusual for nonprofit organizations to hire big-name celebrities for conferences or fundraising efforts, but the fees are rarely disclosed in the annual IRS filings where organizations provide detailed reports on their profits, losses, executive salaries and other expenditures.
Former President George W. Bush was a keynote speaker at the same conference this year, but a hospital spokeswoman said she could not disclose a fee because of a contractual arrangement with his speakers bureau.
The hospital’s payment to Mr. Clinton would have gone unnoticed had it not come to light in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s latest financial disclosure form, which reported the dates and amounts of dozens of speeches by Mr. Clinton in 2012.
“There’s enough ambiguity in how these things are reported that it could be reported in places where there’s no requirement for a breakout,” said Marcus Owens, former director of the IRS exempt organization division. He said nonprofit groups could classify big speaking fees and fundraising or educational expenses.
“It’s not unusual for charities to pay speakers. It may not be common to pay that much, but it would depend on the context,” said tax analyst John Colombo, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law.
The hospital is hardly the only 501(c)(3) organization to shell out big money to hear Mr. Clinton speak. The Naples Philharmonic Center in Florida paid Mr. Clinton $200,000. Later, the nonprofit filed IRS forms showing that it lost $338,000 in overall revenue of about $24 million that same year.
Another organization listed on Mrs. Clinton’s ethics form, the Bushnell Center, shelled out a six-figure check to Mr. Clinton. IRS forms show it reported a $1.8 million deficit during the same tax year it hired the former president.
Mr. Clinton’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Washington Hospital Center officials confirmed their payment to Mr. Clinton in a statement to The Washington Times on Thursday. So Young Park, a hospital spokeswoman, said Mr. Clinton spoke at the annual Cardiovascular Research Technologies conference, where he talked about health care reform and his own battle against heart disease.
She said the meeting generates “net revenue” for the hospital but declined to provide any details about how much money the conference raised or what portion of that revenue officials believed came from people coming to hear Mr. Clinton’s speech.
The hospital’s financial troubles have been well-documented with reports of layoffs affecting 200 workers in 2011 and another 300 employees last year.
Last fall, hospital President John Sullivan blamed declining admissions in an email that foretold of more layoffs. The email was obtained and reported by the Washington Business Journal.
For the most part, there is little price differential in the cost of speeches that Mr. Clinton gave at nonprofits versus those at corporations such as Goldman Sachs, American Express and Fidelity Investments.
One exception was the Salvation Army of Tulsa, which in May 2009 paid Mr. Clinton $115,000 — significantly less than his typical price tag of $200,000 or more, according to Mrs. Clinton’s ethics filings.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton has been following her husband into the lucrative speaking circuit. The New York Times reported last year that she is likely to earn about $200,000 per speech while being represented by the same firm that handles her husband’s speaking engagements.
But the speaking circuit doesn’t come without risk. In 2008, The Washington Times reported that Mr. Clinton had earned $700,000 by selling stock he was given for a speech in 2004 for a private Internet startup called Accoona Corp., which turned out to be co-founded by a convicted felon and backed by the Chinese government, records showed.