How Joe Biden avoided Hillary Clinton's Wall Street problem

Rick Newman
·Senior Columnist
Seattle, WA -MAY 03, 2019 : Former Presidental candidate, former first lady and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speak to a sold out crowd at WaMU Theater on May 03, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. Photo Xander Deccio/imageSPACE/MediaPunch /IPX
Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Seattle on May 03, 2019. Photo Xander Deccio/imageSPACE/MediaPunch /IPX

Like Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Joe Biden made a lot of money after leaving government, by writing a book and giving paid speeches. But he’s not likely to face the kind of criticism Clinton did for cashing in.

After leaving government in January 2017, the former vice president gave 48 paid speeches for $4.2 million, according to the financial disclosure form Biden recently released. That’s an average of $86,000 per speech. Overall, Biden and his wife Jill made $15.5 million in 2017 and 2018, with book royalties accounting for another big chunk of income. The Bidens’ average annual income for those two years was 20 times their pay in 2016—Biden’s last year in government—when they earned just $396,000.

Here’s one thing that doesn’t appear on Biden’s financial disclosure forms: The name “Goldman Sachs.” Or the name of any Wall Street Bank. That’s because Biden gave speeches, in conjunction with his 2017 book “Promise Me, Dad,” mostly to university groups and civic organizations such as Vanderbilt University and the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. It’s hard to get stomping mad about that.

Clinton, by contrast, went straight to Wall Street after stepping down as Secretary of State in 2013. She gave three speeches to Goldman Sachs audiences, for $225,000 apiece. Other Wall Street firms that paid her similar speaking fees: Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, UBS, Sanford Bernstein and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. This was just a few years after the 2008 financial crash and subsequent Wall Street bailouts sparked widespread outrage at banks. After losing the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump, Clinton acknowledged that taking money from Wall Street banks was a mistake.

Former Vice President Joe Biden meets with supporters at a restaurant on Sunday, July 7, 2019, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)
Former Vice President Joe Biden meets with supporters on Sunday, July 7, 2019 in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

Clinton commanded higher speaking fees than Biden—averaging $234,000 per speech—and earned a lot more, overall. The controversial Wall Street speeches, for which she earned $3.7 million in 2013 and 2014, turned out to be a small portion of her total income. Clinton earned another $18 million in speaking fees from other sources, and there was little controversy over paid speeches she gave to groups such as the Economic Club of Grand Rapids or the National Association of Auto Dealers.

Biden’s list of speeches doesn’t include a single for-profit company as the paying customer. Many of his speeches are clustered in book-tour-like travel spurts during the last two months of 2017, June 2018, and the last two months of 2018. Venues were often public event spaces such as the Paramount Theater in Denver, Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh and the Orpheum Theater in Memphis. LiveNation, the concert promoter, organized several of the events, as if Biden were a touring performance artist.

Biden obviously learned from Hillary Clinton’s mistake: it’s okay to get rich, but it matters how you do it. Now he has to overcome another Clinton shortcoming, by proving he can win the Democratic nomination and go on to beat Trump.

Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman

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