Last week the New York Times ran a front-page story entitled, Hillary Clinton Taps Speechmaking Gold Mine. The article suggested that it's ethically questionable at best for former politicians to receive exorbitant fees for speaking engagements.
I take issue with this.
It is ethically permissible for former politicians to be paid for speaking engagements, because clients hire these speakers voluntarily. The talks give a unique look into the political process and provide an up-close-and-personal moment for the audience. No one is being exploited. Adding pro bono speeches to the schedule, as Hillary Rodham Clinton is doing, makes the practice all the more commendable.
Ethical problems arise, however, when elected officials leave office and become lobbyists. Using political relationships to benefit special interest groups is an abuse of power and this, not paid speechmaking, is a legitimate basis for outrage.
The last track on Van Halen's 1988 album OU812 is called A Apolitical Blues [sic]. It's neither the best nor worst song on the record, and it's not even original; Lowell George wrote it and recorded it with Little Feat in 1972. But in thinking about the Times article, I was reminded of the tune, so I'm prompted to say something I've never expressed in this blog before and rarely in other places, either.
My work as The Ethics Guy -- author, speaker, ethics analyst on news programs -- is not based on a particular political ideology. Ethical analysis, when done properly, is independent of politics. The principles of ethical intelligence--Do No Harm, Make Things Better, Respect Others, Be Fair, and Care--should not be seen as exclusive to a particular party, or for that matter, to a specific culture or religious tradition. This means that if it's right for former U.S. Secretary of State Clinton to be paid six or seven figures to give a keynote address, it's appropriate as well for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (who is also mentioned in the Times piece).
Of course, sometimes people twist ethical principles to support their own ideology or prejudices, but that's not the fault of the principles themselves. Republican, Democrat, or Independent, one should be able to make a case for or against the rightfulness of a practice, such as paid speechmaking, and that argument should withstand scrutiny across party lines.
Full disclosure: Although I'm not a former politician, I am represented by the speakers bureaus that also represent the speakers mentioned in the Times article. But this fact has no bearing on the soundness (or lack thereof) of my argument. It does, however, explain why I'm passionate about this issue!
Thank you for reading my blog. I hope all is going well for you.