ARLINGTON, Va. -- Former President Bill Clinton is one of a kind, but we knew that already.
No president before him has managed to cash in from his time in office with such shameless abandon.
A Washington Post story by John Solomon and Matthew Mosk is staggering in its revelations of Mr. Clinton's greed. In the six years since he left the presidency, Mr. Clinton has taken in nearly $40 million - between $9 million and $10 million of it last year. Mr. Clinton averaged "almost a speech a day" in 2006. Twenty percent of his fees reportedly "were for personal income." The rest of his speeches, says the Post, were for no fee or for donations to Mr. Clinton's foundation.
Unlike liberal Democrats, I am not obsessed with how much others make, as long as it's honest money and they pay their taxes. It ought to be a concern, though, when so much money is paid to a former president by foreign governments, foreign entities and corporations with interests in U.S. policies. Although Bill Clinton is no longer in a position to determine such policies, his wife, the junior senator from New York and Democratic presidential candidate, is - and she may soon be in an even more powerful position. Given the Clintons' history of questionable political, business and personal relationships, can anyone say with certainty that the providers of this largesse are uninterested in influencing a President Hillary Clinton through her husband?
It's not as if Mr. Clinton's speeches are imparting anything new to his audiences. People are paying for celebrity and proximity to a former president (and possibly a future one). After one hears Mr. Clinton's riff on the supposed shortcomings of his successor, the "failure" of the administration's policy in Iraq and whatever he proposes to solve the world's problems, there is little else. Why would anyone pay so much to hear so little?
Other than greed, what is the primary motivation behind Bill Clinton's massive cash-in? The answer is suggested in the Post story: "It allows [the Clintons] to tap into that wealth for a campaign if Hillary Clinton, as expected, forgoes public financing in her race for president. It also suggests a sometimes close connection between their personal finances and her political career." What else is new?
The Clintons are plowing new ground. Ethics and election laws should keep pace. Never before has the spouse of a former president run for president. Among those for whom Mr. Clinton spoke were a Saudi Arabian investment firm ($600,000 for two speeches), a Chinese real estate firm, run by a Communist Party official ($200,000), and a Toronto company founded by a Kenyan immigrant who was convicted of stock fraud and barred for life from the brokerage business ($650,000 in 2005 and an undisclosed sum last year). The public needs to know more about their backgrounds.
Although other ex-presidents have spoken for money, there has been nothing on this scale, and none of their spouses were elected officials.
If the new Democratic congressional leadership is serious about living up to its pledge of a far more ethical body than the one run by Republicans, the Senate Ethics Committee will get on this right away.
Cal Thomas' syndicated column appears Wednesdays in The Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.