IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Bush will see big payday, but not anytime soon

In January, President George W. Bush will join the growing ranks of the nation's unemployed.
Image: George Bush
How much will Bush make in the coming years? It's difficult to say. He'll surely be able to earn a few million dollars giving speeches at an estimated $100,000 a pop to right-leaning think tanks and advocacy groups.Jason Reed / Reuters file
/ Source: Forbes

In January, President George W. Bush will join the growing ranks of the nation's unemployed. And though he's guaranteed a presidential pension that will approach $200,000 next year — and has his family's oil fortune to fall back on — being an ex-president can often be a boon.

Between speeches, book deals, consulting arrangements and sitting on myriad corporate boards, ex-presidents stand to make far more than the $400,000 annual salary they earned while in office.

How much will Bush make in the coming years? It's difficult to say. He'll surely be able to earn a few million dollars giving speeches at an estimated $100,000 a pop to right-leaning think tanks and advocacy groups.

But Bush likely won't come close to the megabucks President Clinton has banked since leaving office. The reason: With his approval ratings below 25 percent, Bush is being advised to hold off on signing a multimillion-dollar book deal — the linchpin of any former president's money machine.

"There's just a little bit too much animosity (toward Bush) right now," says literary agent Harvey Klinger, adding that, with time, more people will be interested in the president's introspection.

Klinger says it's likely that first lady Laura Bush will write her memoirs first. She reportedly has been entertaining publishers at the White House to discuss a possible book deal, which will likely fetch at least $5 million. Hillary Rodham Clinton received an $8 million advance for her 2003 memoir, Living History, which focused largely on her years in the White House.

Kim Witherspoon, founder of literary agency InkWell Management, who has represented Anthony Bourdain, Cindy Crawford and Lionel Shriver, says there is no doubt that Bush will get a book deal if he wants one.

"It's very likely that he'll publish in the next few years to offer insight into what was on his mind during his presidency," she says, adding that his advance will be several million dollars. "The size of the deal will likely depend upon when he decides to sell the book, and what he promises to address in it."

Bush can afford to wait, a luxury former President Clinton did not have. Clinton left office in January 2001 burdened with millions of dollars in legal bills from the Monica Lewinsky scandal and needed to work hard to pay them down.

First, Clinton leveraged the 65 percent approval rating he had when he left office into a record-setting $15 million advance for his autobiography, "My Life." The book became a best seller; more than 1.5 million copies have been sold since it was published in 2004, according to Nielsen.

As the royalty checks rolled in, Clinton took his charm on the road, delivering speeches to business executives and international groups across the globe. In 2007 he made $10.1 million delivering 54 speeches to corporate audiences, including investment banks Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch.

He also played the role of rainmaker, becoming an adviser to friend Ron Burkle's private equity firm, Yucaipa. Though it is unclear what the full extent of Clinton's role at Yucaipa was (he severed the relationship with the company last year when Hillary ran for president), billionaire Burkle told Forbes magazine in a 2006 cover story (see "The Rise Of Ron Burkle") that Clinton helped him broker deals and strengthen relationships.

Example: In 2003, Yucaipa arranged for Clinton to make a speech at a Teamsters conference. Later Clinton urged Teamsters President James Hoffa Jr. to trust Burkle and present him with possible deals. That encouragement resulted in Yucaipa paying $100 million to buy a controlling stake in Allied Holdings, a trucking outfit in bankruptcy proceedings.

"Clinton got it to the point where Hoffa actually helped us with that deal, something I couldn't have gotten on my own," Burkle said at the time.

Between 2003 and 2007, Yucaipa reportedly paid Clinton $15 million.

According to tax returns released last year during the Democratic primary, the Clintons booked $109 million in income between 2000 and 2007, most of it earned by the former president. It is unlikely the Bushes will be able to earn that much.

While former presidents stand to make the most, former governors and members of Congress have also cashed in on their names.

After a failed presidential bid in 2000, Sen. Bill Bradley took a high-paying position at investment bank Allen & Co.

Two-time presidential hopeful Bob Dole joined Washington, D.C., law firm Alston & Bird as a "special counsel" after leaving the Senate in 1996. In 2007, Dole made $517,000 in hefty "honoraria" fees paid by companies, universities and trade groups in exchange for unspecified services, plus thousands more in salary, consulting contracts and director compensation. Former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle joined the firm in 2004.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani made millions after he left his post in 2002, parlaying his political access into a successful slew of investment and advisory fees, book advances and speaking engagements.

Before leaving office, Giuliani signed a $3 million advance for a pair of books he promised to write after his term was up. One was a memoir, the other a guide to city politics. The deal was signed before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; he would have likely earned more had the deals been signed afterward.

Once out of office, lingering nostalgia for "America's Mayor" allowed Giuliani to rake in as much $8 million a year in speaking engagements.

Giuliani Partners, the security consultancy he founded after leaving City Hall, reportedly grossed more than $100 million in its first few years of operation. That money came from splashy consulting contracts with companies and civic organizations interested in heightening security and accountability in their offices, factories and neighborhoods. The firm's Web site touts its ability to help "leaders solve critical strategic issues, accelerate growth and enhance the reputation and brand of their organizations."

Even disgraced former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer has a post-politics job. Today he works at his father's New York City real estate business, Spitzer Enterprises.

If only Barack Obama could monetize his seemingly infinite popularity. The president-elect made more than $4 million in 2007, most of it from sales of his two books, Dreams of My Father and The Audacity of Hope. Surely another book would earn more. But he'll have to wait four — or perhaps eight — years to cash in.