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Clintons Moved Up Fast After White House


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Susan Stamberg.

Hillary Clinton released seven years of tax returns yesterday, a move designed to silence one theme of criticism as she battles Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. The returns contain few new facts about Hillary and Bill Clinton's finances, but the bottom-line numbers show just how far the Clintons have moved up since they left the White House.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: Hillary Clinton had been under pressure to release the returns. There's a four-decade tradition of disclosure by presidential candidates. So yesterday, her campaign released tax returns covering the years 2000 to 2006, plus estimates for 2007.

The Clintons' gross income for the eight years exceeds $109 million. They moved up fast. In 2000, the last years of Bill Clinton's presidency, their adjusted gross income was barely $357,000. Then in 2001, the year Hillary Clinton became a U.S. senator, she earned $2.6 million as an author. Bill Clinton became an author and paid speaker. His income: $13 million.

Their adjusted gross income has moved in a zigzag line since then. The low point, $8 million in 2003; the peak, $20.4 million in 2007. With wealth comes complexity. Their tax returns went from nine pages for the year 2000 up to 62 pages for 2006.

Bill Clinton has been involved with a group of investment funds known as Yucaipa. He's advised two Yucaipa domestic funds and has been a partner in some overseas funds. Yucaipa's chairman is Ron Burkle, a California investor who became close to the Clintons in the 1990s. Burkle is a top Democratic money man and has done extensive fundraising for both Clintons.

Aside from Yucaipa, Bill Clinton invested in what appeared to be a hedge fund and also in a fund of hedge funds. But the Clintons' biggest source of income is his speeches. They account for nearly half of their gross income for the eight years.

The individual speeches aren't listed in the tax forms, but they are itemized in Hillary Clinton's senate report of personal finances, which are filed every May. In 2006, Bill Clinton typically charged $150,000 per speech, but sometimes he's made much more, as much as $500,000 in a single day.

He's spoken at motivational conferences overseas and at corporate meetings in this country. On occasion, he appeared at Wall Street firms, where executives have given heavily to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Those firms included Citigroup and Lehman Brothers.

This is all a far cry from the Clintons' days in Arkansas politics, when they never even owned a home, and it shows that Hillary Clinton lives several rungs up the income ladder from Barack Obama.

His 2006 tax return showed an adjusted gross income of $983,000, yet in the primary so far, it's Clinton who has solid support among working-class Democrats.

Professor BRUCE LAURIE (Labor History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst): It's the most surprisingly aspect of her candidacy to me.

OVERBY: Bruce Laurie is a retired professor of labor history at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He says Hillary Clinton fits in a long tradition of wealthy Democrats with a populous message, and he doesn't expect that details of a multi-million-dollar income will cost her votes.

Prof. LAURIE: It will make a difference if Hillary Clinton can be found to have been hypocritical or inconsistent on women's issues, but that doesn't seem likely. The rap against the Clintons insofar as workers are concerned, is their support for NAFTA and international free trade in general, but that doesn't seem to have made a difference in this campaign.

OVERBY: Especially now that Clinton is talking up workers' rights rather than free trade.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.