By David Sirota and Andrew Perez
Goldman Sachs paid former President Bill Clinton $200,000 to deliver a speech in the spring of 2011, several months before the investment banking giant began lobbying the State Department, then headed by Hillary Clinton, federal records reviewed by International Business Times show.
Goldman’s objective in lobbying the State Department could not be immediately discerned. The lobbying disclosure filings note only that Goldman sought to “monitor deficit reduction issues” -- specifically, a bill known as the Budget Control Act -- and the bank declined to answer questions about the precise nature of its interests.
Three days after Bill Clinton accepted Goldman’s money to make a speech in New York City, Hillary Clinton delivered her own address at the State Department in Washington: She lauded the investment bank’s participation in her department’s campaign to boost the numbers of American students who study in China.
According to an ethics agreement governing Hillary Clinton’s tenure as an Obama administration Cabinet official, all of her husband’s paid speeches while she was secretary of state required the prior approval of department officials. Bill Clinton’s 2011 speech to a conference full of Goldman clients gathered in New York gained the blessing of State Department officials, documents obtained by Judicial Watch say.
The discovery that Bill Clinton accepted a six-figure payday from Goldman Sachs just before the bank sought the ear of his wife’s department seems certain to intensify scrutiny of the Clinton family’s often overlapping personal, philanthropic and official business interests.
In the two weeks since she formally declared herself an aspirant for the presidency, gaining status as the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton has been dogged by allegations that foreign governments and well-connected investors have used generosity to her husband and their family’s philanthropic empire, the Clinton Foundation, as a means of seeking to influence policy at her State Department.
'Any Linkage ... Is Preposterous'
Goldman confirmed that it paid President Clinton for his speech several months before the bank’s Washington lobbying firm, the Duberstein Group, began focusing on State Department policy in addition to other federal agencies. But Goldman said there was no connection between the speech fee paid to Bill Clinton and the bank’s interests at the State Department headed by Hillary Clinton.
“Any linkage between a speech for clients and the outcome of the Budget Control Act is preposterous,” said a Goldman spokesman, Andrew Williams, who previously served as a deputy assistant secretary for public affairs at the Treasury Department in the Obama administration. Despite Goldman's lobbying records, Williams asserted: "We did not lobby the State Department on budget issues, nor did we ask anyone else to."
A spokesperson for Clinton’s presidential campaign declined to answer questions about the propriety of Bill Clinton’s Goldman-financed speaking engagement. The State Department declined to comment. Bill Clinton did not respond to requests for an interview.
This month, IBTimes reported that Hillary Clinton switched her position to support a trade agreement forged by the United States and Colombia just as the Colombian subsidiary of a Canadian oil conglomerate, and its founder, contributed to the Clinton Foundation. Under her leadership, the State Department certified Colombia’s human rights record, enabling American military aid to continue to flow to Colombia, despite complaints from organized labor that the military has been responsible for violent crackdowns on striking workers at the oil company’s facilities. The founder, a Canadian named Frank Giustra, has since said his donations to the Clinton Foundation were made as a bid to promote positive change and were not aimed at influencing the State Department.
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal later detailed contributions that flowed into the Clinton Foundation from an executive at a uranium mining firm that was seeking the State Department’s support for a series of transactions involving interests in Russia and Kazakhstan. The State Department occupies a seat on a powerful government panel that reviews deals involving foreign interests, probing potential threats to national security.
In recent days, attention to overlapping interests that have donated to the Clinton family’s private interests while also allegedly seeking to influence State Department policy has reached a fever pitch amid leaks from a forthcoming book on the subject, “Clinton Cash,” by Peter Schweizer.
The involvement of Goldman Sachs seems certain to amplify that scrutiny. The bank brings a reputation as uniquely well-connected in Washington given that many of its former executives have landed in the uppermost ranks of the Treasury Department. (One Goldman alumnus, Gary Gensler, was recently appointed the chief financial officer of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.) In a time in which many ordinary Americans have grown suspicious of Wall Street, accusing well-placed executives of profiting through unsavory enterprises such as subprime mortgage lending, Goldman has become an emblem of this view -- an institution famously described by the journalist Matt Taibbi as a “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
Bill Clinton installed former Goldman Chairman Robert Rubin as his treasury secretary. Since leaving office, President Clinton has received $1.35 million from the bank for eight speeches, the Washington Post reported. Two years ago, Hillary Clinton, having left the Obama administration, gave two speeches at Goldman Sachs events in the span of a week, Mother Jones magazine reported.
State Department records show that Bill Clinton’s $200,000 Goldman Sachs speech was delivered April 11, 2011, to “approximately 250 high level clients and investors” at a United Nations dining room in New York.
In federal disclosure documents, the Duberstein Group is listed as lobbying the Clinton State Department on behalf of Goldman Sachs between July and September 2011. Goldman Sachs paid the Duberstein Group $100,000 during that time.
Those records show that the firm was specifically lobbying the department on “proposed legislation” linked to a series of budget bills. One bill continued congressional authorization for the Export-Import Bank, a government-backed lender whose financing was critical for the prospects of a company in which Goldman owned a stake. The Duberstein Group did not respond to questions about its precise interests in the legislation at issue.
The original budget bill was introduced in July and did not include an extension of the Export-Import Bank, but the bank reauthorization was added in late September, during the same period Goldman was lobbying the State Department on the bill.
In August 2011, the bank authorized a $75 million loan enabling a Chinese firm to purchase aircraft from Beechcraft (known before emerging from bankruptcy in February 2013 as Hawker Beechcraft), a company that was part-owned by Goldman. Beechcraft had lobbied the Clinton State Department on issues relating to foreign military sales in 2009 and 2010, according to its lobbying disclosures.
The State Department is intimately involved in Export-Import Bank decisions. Bank documents say it performs a “human rights review” of countries where loans are made, and also “examine(s) human rights and other foreign policy considerations in their assessment of the risks associated with transactions in specific countries.” In October 2011, Clinton touted the work of her undersecretary, former Goldman Vice Chairman Robert Hormats, saying he was “coordinating with the Export-Import Bank, OPIC, and others to support our investors and exporters in emerging economies.” [OPIC is the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the U.S. government's development finance institution.]
The Export-Import Bank was a source of extraordinary controversy in the latter half of President Barack Obama’s first term. Conservative Republican lawmakers charged that it had become a source of wasteful corporate welfare, echoing traditional criticism from liberal Democrats. Despite the controversy, Congress ultimately passed a bill reauthorizing funding and Obama signed it into law.
The Export-Import Bank appears to have made the loan to the Chinese firm, according to its ledgers, though Hawker Beechcraft filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012.
The Export-Import Bank is again up for reauthorization and faces strong opposition from conservatives, including GOP financiers Charles and David Koch.
Federal documents show that at the same time the Duberstein Group was lobbying for Goldman on the budget bills, it was also lobbying for the bank on issues related to “executive branch action” on pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Clinton was at the time publicly promoting those agreements.