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Revealed: Hillary Clinton's diva-like conditions and fussy demands suggest she doesn’t see herself as one of the people

Former first lady makes fussy stipulations for a talk at the University of Buffalo
  • @dusborne

Easy-going Hillary Clinton is not when it comes to public appearances. Just ask the University of Buffalo, which last year not only paid her $275,000 for a speech on its campus but also had to submit to a laundry list of finicky demands to make her happy. Could they tape her words that were costing so dearly, for instance? They could not.

A first-ever glimpse of the diva-like conditions routinely set by the former first lady is offered in the contract that was struck between her agent, the Harry Walker Agency, and the university, and made public this week, following a Freedom of Information request by the Public Accountability Initiative, a public-interest group based in New York.

The fussiness of her stipulations coupled with the size of the fee - though the contract notes the full sum was to be passed on to the Clinton Foundation, the philanthropic organisation set up by her husband, the former President - will compound a growing perception that Mrs Clinton's alleged empathy for the common man and woman takes a distant second place in her heart to imperiousness self-preening and harvesting embarrassing quantities of cash.

This particularly speaking contract, one of scores she has benefited from since leaving the State Department 18 months ago, says for example that she must have final approval over the “sets, backdrops, banners, scenery, logos, settings, etc”, and the topic and length of her address were at her “sole discretion”. Additionally, she required that the university provide her with “presidential glass panel teleprompter and a qualified operator”.

Perhaps oddest was the requirement that her hosts pay an additional $1,000 to have a trained stenographer on hand to transcribe the speech as she delivers it so that she could have an accurate, verbatim version for her records, while at the same time the university would not be permitted any such copy for its archives. No video or even sound recordings would be allowed. The press, by the way, could attend the speech but not a reception before it.

Mrs Clinton remains far and away the front-runner to take her party's presidential nomination two years hence, but some Democrats are becoming anxious about kind of candidate she might turn out to be. 

If the party as a whole has recently been feeling a populist tug to the left, Mrs Clinton seems hardly to be equipping herself to respond to it.

For a contrast in styles, as much as anything else, there was the visit today by the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to Iowa, the first state to hold a caucus in the process of choosing party nominees. With the last event in that state at the county fairgrounds at Davenport, complete with a BBQ chow-down, the day was tailor-made to show off Mr Christie's talents for rubbing shoulders with voters and engaging in off-the-cuff debate and argument. If Mrs Clinton demands a completely controlled, risk-free atmosphere, Mr Christie thrives in non-orchestrated settings.

Until his tarnishing by the traffic-lane closure scandal on the George Washington Bridge last year, Mr Christie had high hopes of being the Republican choice to take on Mrs Clinton if indeed she heads the Democratic ticket in 2016. The visit to Iowa and another to New Hampshire soon were theoretically taken in his capacity as chair of the Republican Governors' Association. Clearly, though, both will be a chance to gauge his revival prospects.

That all things Clinton and cash have suddenly become a topic of fervent debate is largely the fault of the former first lady herself who on the day of the launch of her new book Hard Choices lamented to an ABC TV interviewer that she and her husband had left the White House “dead broke”. It was remark that to many observers, including in her own party, seemed as politically inept as it was distasteful.

By some estimates, Hillary and Bill have made about $100m (£58m) in speaking fees alone, charging between $200,000 and $700,000 per appearance.  Even their daughter, Chelsea, has joined the family business, commanding $75,000 for each speech.  Until recently, meanwhile, NBC News had been paying Chelsea $600,000 a year as a very occasional feature correspondent. That allegedly worked out at $25,000 per minute on air.

These are the kinds of details that led Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist, to ponder this week: “The Clintons keep acting as though all they care about is selfless public service. So why does it keep coming back to gross money grabs?”