Bernie Sanders Calls Obama's $400,000 Speaking Fee "Unfortunate"

by Morgan Brinlee
Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Barack Obama's decision to accept $400,000 in exchange for speaking at a Wall Street conference organized by Cantor Fitzgerald has drawn criticism former president's allies. Longtime Wall Street critic Sen. Bernie Sanders called Obama's Wall Street speaking fee "unfortunate" and characterized it as evidence of Wall Street's incredible power and influence in an interview with CBS on Friday.

"I think at a time when people are so frustrated with the power of Wall Street and the big money interests, I think it is unfortunate that President Obama is doing this," Sanders told CBS This Morning in the interview. "Wall Street has incredible power and I would have hoped that the president would not have given a speech like this."

When asked by the CBS This Morning anchor if his criticism of Obama's $400,000 speaking fee meant he'd pass up a payout of similar size, Sanders refrained from saying he would never accept a speaking fee, but said Wall Street's money was no good with him. "If Wall Street offered me that... yeah, I don't want Wall Street's money," Sanders said. "But I must tell you, I really don't have to worry about that too much. I haven't got too many invitations from Wall Street."

But Sanders was quick to emphasize that his criticism of Obama's decision to accept $400,000 for speaking at Cantor Fitzgerald's September health care conference did not change how he felt about Obama as either a friend or former president. "President Obama is a friend of mine," the Vermont senator said. "I think he, as president, represented our country with integrity and intelligence."

In a separate interview on Thursday with Bloomberg's Steven Dennis, Sen. Sanders said he felt Obama agreeing to do a paid Wall Street speech "speaks to the power of Wall Street and the influence of big money in the political process." Sanders noted that, as a private citizen, Obama was free to do "anything he wants to," but that he felt the speech was "unfortunate."

Former President Obama is not the only politician Sanders has criticized for accepting large speaking fees from Wall Street corporations. During the 2016 Democratic primary, Sen. Sanders routinely criticized former rival Hillary Clinton for accepting exorbitant speaking fees from Goldman Sachs. Sanders argued that such fees enabled big banks to curry favor with his opponent.

And Sanders isn't alone in his criticism of Obama's $400,000 speaking gig. Many others have said Obama's acceptance of such a massive fee from Wall Street feels at odds with comments and legislative action he made while president. In 2009, for example, Obama slammed Wall Street bankers as "fat cats" who continued to draw bonuses during a recession and "don't get" why people are mad at the banks. But it seems Obama isn't immune to Wall Street's lucrative advances, either.