Elizabeth Dole, Inc.: How she can focus on her lucrative public speaking

Departing presidential politics will help Elizabeth Dole return to her lucrative pre-campaign occupation — public speaking.

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October 20, 1999 — Following the blueprint of her husband and fellow presidential hopeful, Bob Dole, the one-time president of the American Red Cross had a very lucrative career in which her appearances earned her at least $1.6 million since the beginning of last year, usually at $40,000 per event.

“The bottom line is money,” Dole told reporters as she bowed out of the race on Oct. 20. “It would be futile to continue,” she said. “To my friends, I say, `Take heart. We will meet again and often.’ While I may not be a candidate for the presidency in 2000, I’m a long way from twilight.”

Both Doles are represented by International Management Group, the celebrity agency that also acts as booking agent for sports superstars Tiger Woods, Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky, Andre Agassi and Arnold Palmer. The agency has also represented violinist Itzhak Perlman, supermodel Tyra Banks, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.

IMG worked with husband Bob’s image after he lost the presidential race in 1996. The loser at the polls became a big winner on the air. He filmed commercials for Visa and Air France, appeared on the network TV program “Suddenly Susan” and popped in on several late-night talk shows. IMG set up Bob Dole Enterprises, Inc., a for-profit operation, to handle the income he receives from speaking, commercial endorsements (such as Dole’s widely-aired television commercials for Viagra).

Now that Elizabeth is out of politics, IMG will be ready, willing and able to help her cash in on her heightened celebrity status and her campaign-financed mailing lists – and, of course, to put her back on the speaking circuit.

Many of Elizabeth Dole’s lucrative speaking engagements were inherited directly from her husband. At least five of the 43 organizations she spoke to in 1998 and the first half of 1999 were groups that her husband had been speaking to for years. Senator Dole was no stranger to the speaking circuit. He collected $1.4 million in appearance fees from 1981 to 1991 — even though throughout that time Senate rules prevented him from accepting more than $2,000 per speech. Rules set in the early 1990s barred senators from keeping such fees. That’s when Elizabeth Dole began speaking to many of the same groups. From 1991 to 1994 – while her husband was still a senator- she spoke to at least 16 high-paying organizations that had business pending before the government.

Senator Dole temporarily ceased making paid appearances during each of his presidential campaigns. Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley, who collected more than $1.6 million from personal appearances in 1998, took himself off the speaking circuit when he launched his campaign. But Elizabeth Dole continued accepting speaking fees right through hers. In the first seven weeks after she formed her “exploratory committee,” Dole made nine paid appearances before various organizations and audiences. Through 1998, Dole averaged two to three paid appearances a month; in March and April of this year, doubled her speak-for-pay schedule even with the added demands of a presidential campaign.

At the American Red Cross, Dole likewise used her job to boost her profile – and speaking fees. Although she was president of the charity through the end of 1998, none of the money for the 29 speeches she made that year went to the Red Cross. (Dole was prohibited from accepting speaking fees while she served as a Cabinet secretary, though she did take in $100,000 in fees during the year between her stints at the Transportation and Labor departments.)

While Dole took large fees for her speeches, her predecessor rarely charged anything. “Most of the time, I didn’t get remuneration,” Richard Schubert, president of the American Red Cross from 1982 to 1990, told the Center for Public Integrity. “If I did, it was in the form of a donation to the Red Cross.”

Throughout the early 1990s, Dole tried to deflect criticism of her seemingly mercenary speaking habits by repeatedly promising to donate the money to charity. But of the $875,000 in speaking fees she earned from 1991 to 1994, only $405,513 – or just 46 percent – went to charitable organizations. The rest went to cover her personal expenses, and to her substantial retirement fund. (In response to heavy criticism in the wake of a January 1996 story in the Los Angeles Times about her tight-fisted giving, Dole blamed her accountant for the errors and made an additional charitable contribution of $75,000.)

The charity to which Dole donated less than half her speaking fees was none other than the American Red Cross, which under her leadership was facing one of the most severe financial crises of its 100-plus-year history.

Dole continues to claim her fees go to charity. Much of the proceeds from her speaking engagements in 1998 went into the Elizabeth Dole Charitable Foundation. The foundation is a creation of an Cleveland-based accountancy called Investment Advisors International, itself a subsidiary of IMG. Of the $1,136,000 in speaking fees that Dole received in 1998, only $602,458 went to the foundation, a comparison of her financial disclosure form with her foundation’s tax return shows.

The rest of the money went to taxes and to another generous contribution to her retirement plan, according to Robert Davis, Dole’s longtime lawyer and one of the foundation’s three directors. The Dole campaign would provide no information about the speaking fees or the foundation.

The foundation is hoarding the cash she puts in it. In 1998, it gave away only $29,157 of more than $1 million in assets – the minimum required by law to maintain its foundation status.

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