It's not just Wall Street banks. Most companies and groups that paid Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to speak between 2013 and 2015 have lobbied federal agencies in recent years, and more than one-third are government contractors, an Associated Press review found. Their interests are sprawling and would follow Clinton to the White House should she win election this fall.
An examination of federal records, regulatory filings and correspondence shows that almost all the 82 corporations, trade associations and other groups that paid for or sponsored Clinton's speeches have actively sought to sway the U.S. government — lobbying, bidding for contracts, commenting on federal policy and in some cases contacting State Department officials or Clinton herself during her tenure as secretary of state.
Presidents are not generally bound by many of the ethics and conflict-of-interest regulations that apply to non-elected executive branch officials, although they are subject to laws covering related conduct, such as bribery and illegal gratuities. Clinton's 94 paid appearances over two years on the speech circuit leave her open to scrutiny over decisions she would make in the White House or influence that may affect the interests of her speech sponsors.
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The AP review identified at least 60 firms and organizations that sponsored Clinton's speeches and lobbied the U.S. government at some point since the start of Obama administration. Over the same period, at least 30 also profited from government contracts. Twenty-two groups lobbied the State Department during Clinton's tenure as secretary of state.
Rival presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and Republican critics have mocked Clinton over her closed-door talks to banks and investment firms, saying she is too closely aligned to Wall Street to curb abuses. Clinton says she can be trusted to spurn her donors on critical issues, noting that President Barack Obama was tough on Wall Street despite his prolific fundraising there. But her earnings of more than $21.6 million from such a wide range of interest groups could affect public confidence in her proclaimed independence.
"The problem is whether all these interests who paid her to appear before them will expect to have special access when they have an issue before the government," said Lawrence M. Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington-based election watchdog group.
Clinton's spokesman, Brian Fallon, said in a statement, "Hillary Clinton's record shows she has consistently taken on these very same industries, and to suggest she would deviate from that at all as president is completely baseless."
The private sector that provided Clinton's biggest rewards was Washington's trade associations, the lobbying groups that push aggressively for industry interests. Trade groups paid Clinton more than $7.1 million, the review showed, chief among them the National Association of Realtors and the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
The financial services industry accounted for about $4.1 million of Clinton's earnings. Its ranks included Wall Street powerhouses like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Corp., private equity and hedge funds like Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P. and Apollo Global Management LLC and foreign-owned banks Deutsche Bank AG and the Canada Imperial Bank of Commerce. Goldman Sachs, which gave Clinton $675,000 for three speeches in 2013, and Morgan Stanley, which paid her $225,000 for one speech the same year, both spent millions lobbying the U.S. during Clinton's term at the State Department.
Nearly three dozen of Clinton's benefactors spent more than $1 million annually on contacts with officials and Congress during the same year they paid Clinton to appear at their corporate or association events, according to federal lobbying records. Many of them have earned millions more in government contracts — indications of the regulatory and policy stances the groups might advocate during a Clinton presidency.
General Electric, which paid Clinton $225,000 for a speech in Boca Raton, Florida, in January 2014, has the most extensive government portfolio. GE has spent between $15.1 million and $39.2 million annually on lobbying. The company has won nearly $50 million in government work since 2008, including $1.7 million from the State Department for lab equipment and data processing during Clinton's tenure. The firm also lobbied the State Department all four years under Clinton on issues including trade and Iran sanctions.
A GE spokeswoman said, "GE works closely with the U.S. government and State Department, which often advocates for U.S. exporters."
Clinton sought to defuse the issue of her Wall Street speeches during a February debate with Sanders by explaining that she "spoke to heart doctors, I spoke to the American Camping Association, I spoke to auto dealers, and, yes, I spoke to firms on Wall Street."
But even those sponsors have engaged in public advocacy — an indication of how many might seek favors if Clinton were elected.