As he attempts to close the gap with Hillary Clinton in the final days of the New York primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has begun focusing acutely on the speaking fees she received from Wall Street firms during her time out of government.
His campaign put out an ad on Friday that didn't go after Clinton by name but was very much directed her way: criticizing politicians who believe it's "acceptable to take over $200,000 from Wall Street for an hourlong speech." Elsewhere, Sanders has spoken with scorn and derision about Clinton's honorariums from banks like Goldman Sachs, saying, among other things, that such a speech must have been "Shakespearean" to deserve that level of funding. At last week's debate, he mocked her again, scoffing at the idea that Clinton -- per her claim -- called out Wall Street to their face.
“Oh my gosh, they must have been really crushed by this," he said. "Was that before or after you received huge sums of money by giving speaking engagements?”
The line is a killer at the senator's rallies, which is, perhaps, why he often puts it high up in his speeches. All of which invites the (admittedly silly) question: Would those same rally-goers turn down $200,000 if Goldman Sachs offered it to them for a speech?
At the rally Sanders held in Brooklyn's Prospect Park on Sunday, the reaction was mixed.
Some attendees couldn't stomach the possibility. Robina Khalid, for example, drew a parallel to Woody Harrelson's character in "Indecent Proposal" being offered $1 million for a night with his wife, played by Demi Moore.
"I wouldn't do it," she said. "Yeah. It's $200,000. It would be helpful. But morals, those pesky things."
A man named Virendra, meanwhile, claimed he couldn't get past his internal skepticism over what the bank would want in return for the money. "I don't have anything worth saying for that much. I would wonder why they were asking me. I would be asking myself: 'What do I have to say that is worth that dough?'"
Others said that they would be hesitant to take the speaking cash unless they could only give a certain kind of speech.
"I would probably pass on it because I have morals," said Zsuzsa Feher. "But if i could give a speech of 'Fuck you, Goldman Sachs,' I would give it."
But most confided that they would, in fact, take the money. After all, it's TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS!
"Of course I would," said Michael Mindell of Manhattan, "so long as I can say whatever I wanted."
Eve Deambra, 17, and her nearby friend both said they'd take Goldman's honorariums as well. So too did Matt Mintz, 28, of Long Island. "I probably would take it," he said. "I'm only making $75,000 a year, so that would probably help." Asked if he felt he would be morally compromised with that fat Goldman check in his bank account, he replied, "No. If an organization is willing to pay you X amount of money to give you a speech, than your market rate is X."
That sounded like a good old-fashioned free-market defense of Clinton's speaking fees. In fact, it mirrors the defense that Clinton has given when pressed about them. But, of course, Sanders' criticism of Clinton isn't simply that she took the money. It's that she won't release the transcripts of the speeches that she gave and, moreover, that she is susceptible to being influenced by Wall Street insiders precisely because they gave her those large checks.
A man named Max, middle-aged and from New York, summarized it best when he was asked if he'd accept a Goldman Sachs speaking gig.
"Yes," he said, "but I'm not running for president."
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