After years of living on a paltry presidential salary, former President George W. Bush and wife Laura are finally getting paid market rates for their rhetoric.
The former first couple have ramped up their speaking schedule, and are appearing at events that typically net celebrity speakers $100,000 or more.
Bush addressed more than 10,000 attendees at a motivational seminar in San Antonio Wednesday, as part of an all-day procession of speakers that included former Secretary of State Colin Powell, salesman guru Zig Ziglar and NFL star Terry Bradshaw. On Tuesday, Laura Bush addressed a smaller crowd of 500, at the annual dinner of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Foundation.
Bush spokesman David Sherzer would not say how much the couple is paid for speeches, but pointed out that the San Antonio event organized by Get Motivated! is just one of 32 events the former president is attending this year. Bush spoke at a seminar organized by the same group in October.
"He really enjoys it," says Sherzer. "He jokes that he's getting paid for what he did for free for eight years as president."
Industry experts say former White House residents don't come cheap.
"It's much more lucrative than being in office," says John LaRosa, research director at Marketdata Enterprises, a research firm that specializes in niche industries. He points out that popular motivational speakers such as Dr. Phil or Deepak Chopra can charge up to $60,000 per event, while superstars such as Tony Robbins command up to $170,000 per appearance. "Presidents are toward the upper end of the scale," LaRosa said.
It's not surprising that the Bushes would want to refill their coffers. As 43rd president of the United States, Bush only earned about $400,000 a year and now receives an annual pension of about $200,000. These incomes pale in comparison to the personal assets worth millions of dollars which yielded annual interest income of more than $250,000 dollars when it was held in trust during his presidency. The Bushes also own a 1,600 acre ranch in Crawford, Texas.
The Bushes aren't the first presidential retirees to hit the talk circuit.
Former President Bill Clinton earned $5.7 million from speeches in 2008, with most of the cash coming from foreign companies, according to financials disclosed publicly by his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Barbara Bush, George W.'s mother and a former first lady herself, has also addressed audiences for pay.
Speeches Are 'Easy Money'
While some of these speeches are a good platform to help speakers publicize other projects – their charitable work, perhaps, or upcoming book releases -- the main incentive is usually the money.
"It's easy money," says LaRosa. "You get up there and talk for 40 minutes, and then someone gives you $100,000."
Get Motivated! is a financial motivational powerhouse that holds more than 25 "large venue" seminars a year, with tickets selling for up to $300. Past speakers include Bill Cosby, Goldie Hawn and President Bush's mother Barbara Bush.
Tamara Lowe, who founded the business with her husband Peter 20 years ago, says the seminars' mission is to show audiences how to excel professionally.
The duo invites "top achievers" from fields such as politics, business, entertainment and sports, says Lowe, and attendees come away with "renewed enthusiasm, vision and skills for success."
Laura Bush's speech was to CEOs and executives of NACDS, whose members include pharmacies such as CVS and Walmart.
For the most part, presidential speakers stick to uncontroversial topics, discussing their experience in office, their life leading up to the presidency, and offering advice to others who wish to succeed in life.
Bush, who was known for often flubbing his lines, has given dozens of speeches around the country this year, including a July 4 pep talk at a rodeo in Oklahoma, and a speech about U.S.-India relations at a conference held by the Hindustan Times in India.
Speeches are only one way that former presidents earn a living after they leave the White House.
Bush plans to publish a book with Random House in 2010, tentatively titled "Decision Points," about 12 difficult decisions he has made. His first book, "A Charge to Keep," was published in 1999 by HarperCollins. Laura Bush has signed a deal worth an estimated $2 million, according to the New York Post, for a memoir to be published with Simon & Schuster in 2010. The former first lady has also penned a children's book titled "Read All About It" with her daughter Jenna. A portion of the book's sales goes to charity.
Bush Competes With Clintons for Audience
Considering that the former president left office with a disapproval rating of 68 percent, the couple will be lucky to draw the same audiences as their predecessors.
Bill Clinton sold 2.25 million copies of his 2004 memoir "My Life," which earned him a $15 million advance. His wife, current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was paid an $8 million advance for her 2003 memoir "Living History," also published by Simon & Schuster, which sold 2.5 million copies.