WASHINGTON – A small portion of the student activity fees at the University at Buffalo went to help fund Hillary Rodham Clinton’s $275,000 appearance there last fall, a university spokesman acknowledged Wednesday as the former secretary of state’s six-figure speaking engagements faced continuing nationwide scrutiny.
Clinton’s contract with the University at Buffalo Foundation, which UB released Wednesday, revealed her fee for that Oct. 23 speech at Alumni Arena on the North Campus in Amherst – which was shy of the $300,000 she received from a speech at the University of California, Los Angeles, but better than the $225,000 fee she will take for an upcoming talk at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The nine-page contract stipulates that the “net honorarium” for the speech would go to the Clinton Foundation, which Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, founded after leaving the White House. An unspecified sum would have gone to the Harry Walker Agency, which arranges the former secretary of state’s speaking arrangements.
No state or tuition funds were used to pay Clinton’s speaking fee, the university said in a statement. Instead, the UB Foundation paid for the speech as part of the annual Distinguished Speakers Series.
“The speaking fee and all other appearance costs are financed entirely through ticket sales, sponsorships and endowments established specifically to support the university’s Distinguished Speakers Series,” the university said in its statement.
Upon questioning, however, university spokesman John DellaContrada revealed that one of those funding streams for that speakers series is the student activity fee, which is $94.75 a semester.
“The Student Association sponsors the series, and the Student Association is funded by student fees,” DellaContrada said. “Students receive free tickets in return for the sponsorship. The speaker series is very popular with students and is a valuable part of the student experience at a major university.”
James Ingram, president of the UB Student Association, did not respond to a request to comment. But Alana Barricks, president of the College Republicans at UB, said she was very unhappy about the six-figure fee to the presumptive front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
“It’s a lot,” Barricks said of Clinton’s fee. “At a time when so many students are struggling to pay their tuition, the liberal politicians shouldn’t be reaching into our already empty pockets.”
Barricks suggested that Clinton should have donated her speaking fee to a scholarship fund at UB. Given that undergraduate tuition and fees currently total $8,870 at UB, doing so would have paid the way for a year for about 31 in-state undergrads.
Clinton’s spokesman, Nick Merrill, did not respond to a series of emailed questions about Clinton’s speaking fee.
Clinton was the highest-paid speaker in the 2013-14 speaker series. In reality, the student fees at UB likely paid only a very small portion of what Clinton charged. While 2,000 students attended the speech free of charge, upward of 4,500 people paid between $36 and $64 to see her – meaning the event likely pulled in at least $162,000 in ticket revenues.
Clinton’s speaking fee stood in stark contrast to that of her husband, who appeared for free in the UB Distinguished Speakers Series in 2002.
Yet the fee at UB was roughly in line with what she has been receiving at other public universities. For example, she received $251,250 for a speech at the University of Connecticut, the Washington Post reported earlier this month in an article that detailed her eight campus appearances in the last year.
In each of those cases, Clinton donated her portion of the fee to the Clinton Foundation, whose purpose is to forge partnerships worldwide aimed at addressing issues such as health, childhood obesity, economic opportunity, climate change and the advancement of women and girls. According to documents on the foundation’s website, the foundation spent $1.84 million more than it took in during 2012 and $3.76 million more than it took in the year before that.
The foundation’s financial situation, as well as Clinton’s speaking fees, have drawn increasing attention as the 2016 presidential race approaches, with Republicans saying they show that she is out of touch with the typical voter.
“I don’t think flying on private jets and collecting $250,000 for a speech is considered to be hard work,” Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last month.
And at UNLV, student leaders recently said Clinton shouldn’t keep the money for her upcoming speech there.
“In keeping with Secretary Clinton’s long-standing history of advocating for students in higher education, we as student government leaders are asking that she charitably donate part or all of the $225,000 speaking fee she is reportedly making for this fundraising speech back to the UNLV Foundation as a whole,” said the letter, which was co-signed by Student Body President Elias Benjelloun.
The contract with the UB Foundation, which provides the most inside detail to date about Clinton’s lucrative speaking engagements, also shows that she exerted a great deal of control over the details of the sold-out event.
“It is agreed that the Speaker’s office via the Agency shall have final approval of the introducer requested by the Sponsor,” the contract said. “If the agreed-upon itinerary for this engagement includes a moderated Q&A, it is agreed that the Speaker’s office via the Agency shall have final approval of any moderator requested.”
In addition, the contract gave the Harry Walker Agency the right to approve “sets, backdrops, banners, scenery, logos settings, etc. which are in any way related to her speech or any other activities associated with the Speaker’s appearance.”
The contract also said that Clinton had the right to ask the university to provide and pay for “a presidential glass panel teleprompter and a qualified operator,” but Clinton paced the stage during her appearance, ignoring the teleprompter.
Clinton, a former U.S. senator from New York, spoke for a half-hour at the event, praising Buffalo’s revival and bemoaning gridlock in Washington while avoiding the topic of a possible 2016 presidential campaign. She then answered a series of softball questions from Dennis R. Black, vice president for university life and services at UB.
The event was not unlike other speeches in the Distinguished Speakers Series, for which the university has paid top dollar for big-name speakers since 1987. For example, the university paid developer Donald J. Trump, a Republican, $200,000 to speak a decade ago, while Colin L. Powell – a former secretary of state and also a Republican – drew $100,000.
“I believe the design of the program was to have highly recognizable keynote speakers come to campus, which would be beneficial to the Western New York community,” said Edward P. Schneider, executive director of the UB Foundation.
But it’s a design that some dislike. Raymond F. Yox, an Orchard Park resident, wrote to The Buffalo News to call Trump’s appearance “an abomination” and said he would steer future fundraising calls from UB to the New York developer.
And on Wednesday, Dr. Mark H. Strassberg, a San Francisco physician who graduated from UB Medical School in 1977, said in an email: “Very disappointing that the money that I gave to the UB Foundation is not going to directly help students.”