Speaking Fees for Former Presidents Top $750,000

How Much Clinton, Carter and the Bushes Earn By Just Talking

The president of the United States is paid $400,000 a year while in office. He also earns a substantial pension for the rest of his life under the Former Presidents Act of 1958. But, just like most politicians, presidents don't endure the rigors of the campaign trail and put up with life as the most scrutinized leader in the world for the money. The cash really starts rolling in when our commanders-in-chief leave the White House and hit the speaking circuit.

America's former presidents are raking in tens of millions of dollars just by making speeches, according to tax records and published reports. They speak at corporate conventions, charity fundraisers and business conferences. Barack Obama is likely to join the speaking circuit, too, when he leaves office in January 2017.

You don't have to be a former president to rake in speaking fees, though. Even failed presidential candidates such as Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton and Ben Carson get paid tens of thousands of dollars — and in Clinton's case a couple hundred thousand dollars — per speech, according to published reports. 

Gerald Ford was the first to take advantage of a president's status after leaving office, according to Mark K. Updegrove, the author of Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House. Ford earned as much as $40,000 per speech after leaving office in 1977, Updegrove wrote. Others before him, including Harry Truman, deliberately avoided speaking for money, saying they believed the practice was exploitative. 

Here's a look at how much our four living former presidents earn on the speaking trail.

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Bill Clinton - $750,000

Former President Bill Clinton
Former President Bill Clinton.

Mathias Kniepeiss/Getty Images

Former President Bill Clinton has made the most of any modern president on the speaking circuit. He gives dozens of speeches a year and each brings in between $250,000 and $500,000 per engagement, according to published reports. He also earned $750,000 for a single speech in Hong Kong in 2011. 

In the decade or so after Clinton left office, from 2001 through 2012, he made at least $104 million in speaking fees, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

Clinton makes no bones about why he charges so much.

“I gotta pay our bills,” he told NBC News.

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George W. Bush - $175,000

George W. Bush - Hulton Archive - Getty Images
US President George W. Bush poses for a portrait in this undated photo January 31, 2001 at the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo courtesy of the White House/Newsmakers).

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Former President George W. Bush earns between $100,000 and $175,000 per speech and is considered one of the most prolific speech-makers in modern politics.

The news source Politico has documented Bush's appearances on the speaking circuit and found he's been the keynote in at least 200 events since leaving office.  

Do the math. That amounts to at least $20 million and as much as $35 million in speaking fees he's raked in. Though it should come as no surprise given his stated intention upon leaving off to “replenish the ol’ coffers.”

Bush does his speaking "in private, in convention centers and hotel ballrooms, resorts and casinos, from Canada to Asia, from New York to Miami, from all over Texas to Las Vegas a bunch, playing his part in what has become a lucrative staple of the modern post-presidency," Politico reported in 2015.

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George H.W. Bush - $75,000

George H.W. Bush
Republican George H.W. Bush ran unsuccessfully for his party's presidential nomination in 1980, but later became president. Mark Wilson/Getty Images News

Former President George H.W. Bush — who, oddly enough, wasn't fond of speaking in public — was said to charge between $50,000 and $75,000 per speech. And that's according to his son, the 43rd president of the United States. “I don’t know what my dad gets, but it’s more than 50, 75,” the younger Bush told author Robert Draper.

And no, he wasn't talking $50 or $75. We're talking thousands.

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Jimmy Carter - $50,000

Jimmy Carter at a booksigning, March 2014.

Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

Former President Jimmy Carter "seldom accepts speaking fees," The Associated Press wrote in 2002, "and when he does he typically donates the proceeds to his charitable foundation." His fee for speaking about healthcare, government and politics, and retirement and aging was listed at $50,000 at one time, though.

Carter was openly critical of Ronald Reagan at one time, though, for taking $1 million for a single speech. Carter said he'd never take that much, but added quickly: "I've never been offered that much."

"That's not what I want out of life," Carter said in 1989. "We give money. We don't take it."