12 April 2008

On Our Backs

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

Last week, the news came out – with the release of Senator Hillary Clinton’s tax returns – that she and former President Bill Clinton have earned more than $100 million since Mr. Clinton left office in 2000. Terrific! It’s the American dream! Except for the galling part of this story that few seem particularly interested in: the creation of the Clinton’s fortune has been subsidized by us, the taxpayers of America.

As a former president, Bill Clinton received certain services and support from the United States. A CNN/Money article from 2004 notes that Clinton received more than $500,000 a year in subsidies to maintain his Manhattan office, and that the government pays for his postage, travel, and other expenses. Clinton also has a Secret Service security detail. The Hill estimates the cost of security for active candidates at $38,000 per day. Even if the cost of a Secret Service team for a former president is only 25% that of a current candidate, this still costs taxpayers $3,467,500 per year. Excluding travel costs – likely the single most expensive additional cost – that means taxpayers are subsidizing Bill Clinton’s life to the tune of more than $4 million each year. (He also gets a pension of more than $170,000 per year – which might not sound like much, but when combined with Hillary’s $150,000 Senate salary comes out to a nice, reliable monthly total even before all of their extra earnings are calculated.)

Not to belittle the effort required to be Bill Clinton, but having most of one’s expenses covered by the American taxpayer surely makes it easier to earn extra cash. Nor should we single out Clinton: George H.W. Bush, Al Gore, Dan Quayle, Jimmy Carter, and Walter Mondale are all out there and, in one way or, are another taking advantage of these taxpayer subsidies. (That Bush, Carter, Gore, and Quayle were all wealthy before taking office is hardly an excuse.)

It is high time we re-thought this whole approach. Former presidents and vice presidents deserve a pension, and when they perform services specifically on behalf of the U.S. government, we – the taxpayers – should cover their expenses. Beyond that, these ex-officers of our government should be required to reimburse the U.S. Treasury when the focus of their activities is private income generation. I do not begrudge Bill Clinton his >$150,000 speaking fees or the generous advances he has received for his books, or for that matter George H.W. Bush’s lucrative involvement with a major investment group, or Al Gore’s various income-producing ventures. Using their significant position to personal advantage while pursuing these activities as private citizens is fine, but taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize the creation and maintenance of their family fortunes while ours are slowly drained as a result.


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