Jay Carney cashes in
By: Darren Samuelsohn and Anna Palmer
July 16, 2014 06:38 PM EDT
Jay Carney just left the White House podium and he’s already joined the ranks of George W. Bush, Tom Brokaw and Mike Ditka in one profitable enterprise: lecturing on the private speaking circuit.
The former Obama administration flack signed on this month with the Washington Speakers Bureau, a gig that came with a signing bonus and is likely to yield payments as high as $100,000 per speech to share his personal presidential anecdotes and analysis of the next two election cycles.
As the most recent high-profile person out the West Wing door, Carney can expect to be in high demand with the universities, corporations and trade associations — the public and private institutions willing to pay for what has become the standard first move of high-ranking outgoing administration officials.
Giving speeches is a nice job, one that will help with the bills and keep him in the public eye while giving the 49-year old former Time Magazine Washington bureau chief additional time to weigh a slew of offers for his next career step, which range from a slot with one of the networks to Silicon Valley to joining PR and consulting firms.
Carney confirmed in an interview his arrival on the speaker circuit, adding that he also would maintain a public presence with cable and network TV hits. He said he had no immediate plans to write a book and declined comment on salary figures and other job offers.
“I’m just talking to a lot of people about a bunch of potentially interesting things,” Carney said. “I’m just having conversations.”
Like other former senior administration staffers, Carney has been navigating the jolt from hectic White House back to private life with the help of Washington super lawyer Robert Barnett.
“He knew how everything worked,” said President George W. Bush’s first spokesman, Ari Fleischer, recalling visits with Barnett to all of the major New York publishing houses before holding an auction that reportedly led to a $500,000 advance on his book, ‘Taking Heat.’
Carney’s unlikely to make a big career decision in the imminent future — the types of jobs he is considering often mean a move to corporate headquarters in other cities, a challenge for the Northern Virginia native with two young kids.
White House veterans and Washington headhunters say Carney is likely to command a first year compensation package of around $1.5 million if he goes into the corporate arena or joins a consulting firm. But that formula would be significantly different if he decides to join a start-up — an article posted Monday by the tech news site Recode said the car service Uber was interested in Carney — that offers less cash up front but with the prospect of a highly profitable stock option.
“With tech companies, it’s all about stock,” former Bill Clinton White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said. He declined to discuss the details of his own Facebook pay package – he spent 15 months there over 2011 and 2012 — before returning to the media relations and political strategy firm Glover Park Group that he co-founded.
“It all depends on where the stock goes,” Lockhart said. “There’s an element of risk. You can go to the Acme app company and you can think it was great and it turns out to be Myspace.”
Veteran Washington headhunter Nels Olson said Carney will have plenty of opportunities in the corporate and consulting world.
“He’ll mull those over either with counsel or on his own. I’m sure the phone is ringing for him,” Olson said.
While Carney is certainly a hot commodity, his lack of corporate experience is one factor that could turn off companies interested in hiring him to run their corporate public affairs. It’s also unlikely that he would register to lobby, which limits the number of firms who are interested in adding him to their roster. But several Washington veterans said Carney could be a good candidate to be the face of a public affairs firm or a law firm that is looking to build out a PR practice.
Carney also will be an attractive job candidate to return to his journalism roots as a television contributor or in editorial management. In nearly every new job scenario, he’ll easily best his $172,200 annual White House salary.
“He brings a lot to the table,” said Bob Franken, a former CNN correspondent. “I’d venture to say he’s not going to be starving.”
Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, a CNN and ABC News contributor, said that Carney’s next steps will be an outgrowth of his professional achievements.
“Jay had a great career in journalism before transitioning to the White House. Whatever he decides to do, I am sure it will keep him in the spotlight,” she wrote in an email. “Honestly, former athletes become sports analyst. Now, Jay can pick up where his career was leading him.”
Carney’s arrival on the speaking circuit is no surprise for someone who just served in the West Wing. He met with all of the major firms before signing on with the Washington Speakers Bureau, which also represents his wife, ABC newswoman Claire Shipman and promotes his picture prominently on its main website while noting in his bio that he “faced the world and White House press corps each day with characteristic grace, wit and aplomb.”
“Perhaps no one is better equipped to survey today’s current events both at home and abroad than Jay Carney,” said his bio, which is sandwiched between Tucker Carlson and futurist Jim Carroll. “With his tenure at the White House and a long, well-respected career at TIME magazine spanning the globe from Russia to Washington, D.C., Carney’s collegial personality and working relationships with those on both sides of the aisle allow him to share with audiences a unique view of our world today.”
Other White House aides have done well on the speakers’ circuit too — often making their highest payments in the immediate months after leaving the job. Obama’s first spokesman, Robert Gibbs, earned a reported $2 million from his lectures in the first 18 months after he left the White House. But the longer former officials are no longer behind the podium, the lower the fees: Dan Bartlett and Nicolle Wallace command between $10,000 to $20,000 for a local speech and between $20,001 and $35,000 for a trip to the West coast, according to their firm, Leading Authorities. Because of the time commitment, it also costs substantially more for travel and speeches in Europe and Asia.
Fleischer estimated that he gave 10 to 15 speeches a month for the first two years after his time ended in the Bush administration. He typically spoke for 30 to 45 minutes, covering a range of audience favorite topics, including his trips on Air Force One, stays at Camp David and recollections from traveling with the president on Sept. 11, 2001.
“There’s a good chance [Carney] could spend the next year or two living on an airplane, giving paid speeches and having the most wonderful soft landing you can imagine,” Fleischer said. “The thing that will make Jay a good speaker is if he’s not a partisan. He really needs to put on his insider hat. Talk about what’s working. What’s not. And tell insider stories from the White House.”
His personal stock is as high as it gets, too.
“People want the shiniest toy and Jay will be the shiniest toy,” said one former Democratic administration official who went through the same headhunting experience after leaving the West Wing.
Dana Perino, who served as Bush’s fourth and final press secretary, has built her own brand through paid media appearances on FOX News’ The Five. In an email, she wrote that she didn’t set out to work on TV, initially trying the PR route. “That came with lots of advantages, but it was hard,” she said. “Some days I worked longer hours than when I’d been in the White House.”
Perino said she expected the FOX show would last only for a few weeks, but has seen it become a fixture of cable TV that just passed its three year mark.
“A press secretary has been drinking from the fire hose for so long that they can really do anything they want,” she said. Perino is also an editorial director for Random House and, with Barnett’s representation, has her own memoir — ‘And the Good News is…’ — coming out next May.
Former White House aides can take all kinds of career routes after leaving their jobs: Just look at Obama’s first chief of staff and now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Ex-press secretaries, though, have had some of the more interesting jobs, from Clinton spokesman Mike McCurry, who works for a Washington consulting firm and last year got a divinity degree at Wesley Theological Seminary to Dee Dee Myers, who consulted on the NBC drama ‘The West Wing,’ worked for Vanity Fair and the Glover Park Group and most recently moved to Los Angeles for a job leading the Warner Bros studio’s communications office.
Scott McClellan, now a vice president for communications at Seattle University, got a reported $75,000 advance for his tell all, ‘What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception’ and saw the book hit No. 1 on Amazon.com.
Fleischer in recent years has juggled a stint on contract with CNN (he offered analysis from a studio the network built in his Connecticut home) to building a new PR shop that works with corporate and sports client, including media training for nine NFL teams, Major League Baseball and women’s professional tennis.
Obama’s first legislative director, Phil Schiliro, kept a low profile in the White House and his career choices since have also followed a different route than many of his former colleagues. He moved to Santa Fe, N.M., to work for nonprofits on environmental and health care issues after his first administration stint ended in 2012.
After making a second run with the Obama White House earlier this year to help manage the health care law’s troubled implementation, he headed back west again, opting against the speaking and TV gigs. In an interview, Schiliro, who also worked for nearly three decades on Capitol Hill, acknowledged he’s probably left a chunk of money on the table.
“There are all different ways to make a living,” he said.