When he was president he called them “fat cats,” but now he’s likely thanking them for a huge payday.
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Former President Barack Obama, less than 100 days out of office, has agreed to speak at a Wall Street conference run by Cantor Fitzgerald LP, senior people at the firm confirm to FOX Business. His speaking fee will be $400,000, which is nearly twice as much as Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, and the 2016 Democratic Party candidate, charged private businesses for such events.
Obama has agreed to speak at Cantor’s health care conference in September and will be the keynote luncheon speaker for one day during the event, people at the firm tell FOX Business. These people say Obama has signed the contract, but the company, a mid-sized New York-based investment bank, is waiting to coordinate with the former president before making a formal announcement.
These people add that Obama could ultimately back out of the arrangement depending on his schedule and other concerns such as adverse publicity.
A spokesman for the former president didn’t return a call for comment; a spokeswoman for Cantor said the firm is not in a position to comment just yet, but would not deny that Obama has agreed to speak to the firm and at the $400,000 fee.
News of Obama’s speaking deal with Cantor, which had yet to be reported, comes as the former president made on Monday his first public comments since leaving office after an extended vacation. In those comments to college students at the University of Chicago, the president spoke broadly about the need for public service and studiously avoided any mention of the current president, Republican Donald Trump, or how he intends to make a living now that he’s a private citizen.
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It’s also likely to be a source of criticism against the former president given Obama’s record of attacks against Wall Street bankers for making huge salaries while average Americans were suffering from the ravages of the 2008 financial crisis. Obama, a progressive Democrat, spoke frequently about Wall Street greed during his eight years as president, and now he’s accepting a speaking fee from the industry he singled out as the main culprit of the banking collapse.
“Is there an irony here because he spoke incessantly about the income gap and is now earning from those same people he criticized? Yes it is,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant. “Should we expect it? Yes, we should because all former presidents do this. He went on the attack against Wall Street and now he’s being fed by those same people he called ‘fat cats’. It’s more hypocritical than ironic.”
Another irony: Obama will be speaking at a health care conference at a time when his signature piece of legislation – ObamaCare—could be radically altered by President Trump and a Republican Congress. Given the September date of the conference, Obama may be forced to address problems with the controversial health care law, such as massive premium increases, if the GOP repeal doesn’t take shape by then.
Of course, Obama wouldn’t be the first politician or even former president to accept large fees for speaking to business groups. Most presidents like Obama, who isn’t independently wealthy, also seek to cash in on their celebrity though speaking fees and lucrative book deals (Obama has already signed a book deal worth a reported $60 million).
Former president Bill Clinton, for example, is a prolific speaker, and by some estimates earned well over $100 million in fees for public appearances since leaving office. But like his wife, Hillary, Bill Clinton’s average fee of little more than $200,000 is nearly half of what President Obama will be commanding for his speech at Cantor, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.
And while Bill and Hillary Clinton frequently spoke to Wall Street firms, such as Goldman Sachs, unlike Obama, they were hardly at odds with the financial business during either of their times in office. The presidency of Bill Clinton included a massive deregulation of Wall Street, a booming stock market and lower taxes on investments—all moves that endeared him to the Wall Street community.
The former first lady and former U.S. Senator from New York was regarded as a centrist when it came to Wall Street regulation and received copious monetary support from the financial community all through her political career. During her unsuccessful 2016 president campaign, she largely avoided attacking banks directly even as she preached the need for income redistribution and stiff regulations against businesses.
President Obama, meanwhile, was elected president while the country was in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, and then the Great Recession. Public sentiment against the big banks for their role in the crisis was high, and he wasted little time using the public’s anger at the big banks to his political advantage.
During a 2009 interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” Obama famously said, "I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street,” and gave a series of speeches during his two terms in office demanding accountability from banks, which he characterized as the main culprits of the 2008 financial crisis.
But even worse for the banks were his actions as president. His championing of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law squeezed bank profits, and forced firms like Goldman Sachs to drop once-lucrative business lines. The Obama Justice Department didn’t indict a single bank for financial crisis related frauds, but it did rack up billions of dollars in penalties against players like JPMorgan, the nation’s largest bank, for alleged abuses.
Sheinkopf says Obama may receive criticism from Republicans for his alleged hypocrisy over accepting the speaking fee from Wall Street, but he believes the criticism inside his own party will be muted even from such notable class warriors as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“Democrats are lacking so much leadership that they aren’t going to be upset with this,” he said. “They have no heroes anymore, and [Obama] was their last great hero, so how can they turn on him even though he is being a bit of a hypocrite?”