Right up until Gerry Ford, American presidents routinely refused any kind of directorships, paid lecture tours, or other opportunities to commercialize the office -- instead, they relied upon the generous presidential pension, currently at $200k/year plus a staff and expenses.
(This is the pension that Hillary Clinton says left her and Bill "not only dead broke, but in debt" when Bill Clinton left the White House in 2000.)
Before Ford, presidents made a big deal out of the necessity of staying out of the private sector. Here's Truman: "I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency,"
But Ford took a seat on Fox's board, got an honorary directorship from Citigroup, and started cashing in with high-paid lectures. Reagan went further, literally collecting millions for 20 minute speeches. GWB made $15m+ from 100 speeches between 2011-2015.
Bill and Hillary, meanwhile, have made $139m from their lectures ($35m from banks).
Congress appropriated $3.5 million for presidential pensions and other benefits in 2015.
Members of Congress in both parties are sponsoring legislation that would reduce ex-presidents’ pension payouts if they earn more than a predefined threshold in private sector earnings annually.
“Taxpayers should not have to pay for a former president’s allowance if the former president is making a comfortable living earning more than $400,000 a year after leaving office,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.about the bill. The bill passed the House in January.
One recent ex-president who didn’t cash out, of course, is Jimmy Carter. Perhaps not coincidentally, in a Quinnipiac University poll released this last November, a plurality of Americans said Carter has had the best post-presidency.
Taxpayers Give Big Pensions to Ex-Presidents, Precisely So They Don’t Have to Sell Out [Zaid Jilani/The Intercept]