Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was paid $300,000 to speak to UCLA students and faculty in March. (UCLA)
When officials at the University of California at Los Angeles began negotiating a $300,000 speech appearance by Hillary Rodham Clinton, the school had one request: Could we get a reduced rate for public universities?
The answer from Clinton’s representatives: $300,000 is the “special university rate.”
That e-mail exchange and other internal communications, obtained this week by The Washington Post under a Freedom of Information Act request, provide a rare glimpse into the complex and meticulous backstage efforts to manage the likely 2016 presidential candidate’s lucrative speaking career.
At UCLA, efforts to book Clinton and then prepare for her visit were all-consuming, beginning almost immediately after she left her job as secretary of state on Feb. 1, 2013, until she delivered her Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership speech on March 5, 2014.
The documents show that Clinton’s representatives at the Harry Walker Agency exerted considerable control over her appearance and managed even the smallest details — from requesting lemon wedges and water on stage to a computer, scanner, and a spread of hummus and crudité in the green room backstage.
Top university officials discussed at length the style and color of the executive armchairs Clinton and moderator Lynn Vavreck would sit in as they carried on a question-and-answer session, as well as the kind of pillows to be situated on each chair. Clinton’s representatives requested that the chairs be outfitted with two long, rectangular pillows — and that two cushions be kept backstage in case the chair was too deep and she needed additional back support.
After a lengthy call with a Clinton representative, UCLA administrator Patricia Lippert reported to campus colleagues, “She uses a lavalier [microphone] and will both speak from the audience and walk around stage, TED talk style. We need a teleprompter and 2-3 downstage scrolling monitors [for] her to read from.”
During a walk-through of Royce Hall five days before the lecture, the e-mails show, Clinton’s team rejected the podium planned for her use during her 20- to 30-minute speech, setting off a scramble on campus to find a suitable podium and rent a new university seal to match.
In the nearly two years since stepping down as secretary of state, Clinton has made dozens of paid appearances across the country at industry conventions and Wall Street banks as well as at universities. Her UCLA fee, like those at other universities, went to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, the family’s nonprofit group.
But critics have argued that the carefully staged events and high speaking fees could complicate Clinton’s ability to run a populist campaign built around the economic struggles of the middle class.
Versions of Clinton’s standard speaking contracts have surfaced publicly this year — including her luxury travel requirements — but the contracts do not contain the extensive detail seen in the UCLA communications.
It is unclear how personally involved Clinton was in the UCLA negotiations and whether the requests from her agency were being directed by her or merely from underlings anticipating her preferences.
A Clinton spokesman declined to comment on the speaking arrangements.
It is commonplace for celebrity speakers to request special accommodations — and Clinton was no exception. Her representatives asked for a case of still water, room temperature, to be deposited stage right. They also asked that “a carafe of warm/hot water, coffee cup and saucer, pitcher of room temperature water, water glass, and lemon wedges” be situated both on a table on stage as well as in another room where Clinton would stand for photos with VIPs.
For the green room, Clinton’s representatives requested: “Coffee, tea, room temp sparkling and still water, diet ginger ale, crudité, hummus and sliced fruit.” They also asked for a computer, mouse and printer, as well as a scanner, which the university had to purchase for the occasion.
When university officials decided to award Clinton the UCLA Medal, Clinton’s team asked that it be presented to her in a box rather than draped around her neck. That request was sent to the university’s chancellor, Gene Block.
“Chancellor Block has agreed to accommodate Hillary Clinton’s request to have the medal presented in a box,” Assistant Provost Margaret Leal-Sotelo wrote in one e-mail.
Lippert replied: “I can either have the jewelers box open or closed, in case the Chancellor doesn’t want to risk opening it.”
By contract, Clinton’s approval was needed for any promotional materials. Clinton gave permission for the university to record the event, but “for archival purposes only.” For public distribution, Clinton’s speaking agency approved only a two-minute highlight video to upload to YouTube. “Please make sure it is available only for one (1) year from the date of posting,” a Harry Walker Agency official added.
Clinton posed for individual photos with 100 VIPS, or 50 couples — “We get a total of 50 clicks,” one university official explained — as well as two group photos. Lippert wrote to colleagues that Clinton’s representatives wanted the group shots “prestaged,” with participants assembled and ready to take the photographs before Clinton arrived “so the secretary isn’t waiting for these folks to get their act together.” Reiterating the request, Lippert added, “She doesn’t like to stand around waiting for people.”
Like many major universities, UCLA regularly pays high-profile speakers to visit campus. Many of the visits are funded through a private endowment and not with tuition or public dollars. Clinton’s appearance was privately funded as part of a lecture series endowed by Meyer Luskin, an investor and president of Scope Industries, a food waste recycling company.
In 2012, former president Bill Clinton delivered the inaugural Luskin lecture at UCLA for $250,000. Upon learning that Hillary Clinton’s fee would be $300,000, Guy Wheatley, a UCLA development official, wrote in an e-mail: “Wow! She get’s $50K more than hubby!”
Luskin told a university official to make sure the event raised at least $100,000. The university sold more tickets — which ranged in price from $250 for one seat to $2,000 for two seats, a photo with Clinton and access to a post-lecture reception with the college deans — and provided fewer free tickets to students.
UCLA Communications Director Jean-Paul Renaud said in a statement that Clinton’s speech helped “expand dialogue among scholars, leaders in government and business, and the greater Los Angeles community.” He said that the university acted “as a responsible steward of financial resources” and that ticket revenue funded the College’s Greatest Needs Fund, which includes undergraduate and graduate student support.
On campus, university planners fielded repeated requests for complimentary or reserved tickets — for scholarship students, for donors, for faculty and staff.
Organizers faced criticism that more students could not attend, particularly after an early morning event to allow students to enter a lottery for one of 413 free tickets turned into a shoving match. But students without tickets were able to watch a live stream of the event in an overflow location, Renaud said.
Other controversy surrounded Clinton’s visit. When an online survey asked the public what questions should be posed during a 40-minute question-and-answer session, university officials noted in e-mails that the majority of the suggestions were about the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
Days after the lecture, administrators discussed an e-mail that had arrived from graduate Charles McKenna, a lawyer who said he was concerned that the university was charging more than $250 for a ticket to hear a public official speak.
“In effect, this is a campaign appearance, as Ms. Clinton is undeniably looking into a presidential run in 2016,” McKenna wrote. “Why is a public university charging the public for the pleasure of providing Ms. Clinton the benefit of a high profile platform?”
One UCLA official advised against responding to McKenna’s e-mail “unless he pushes.” Another UCLA official then looked up the man’s giving record and responded that while he was a donor, he had not given large amounts.
In an interview Wednesday, McKenna said he never received a response to his e-mail. “If you’re a big shot, you get attention,” he said. “I’m not a big shot, by any stretch of the imagination.”
Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.
Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.