Former President George W. Bush charged $100,000 to speak at a charity fundraiser for U.S. military veterans severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, and former First Lady Laura Bush collected $50,000 to appear a year earlier, officials of the Texas-based Helping a Hero charity confirmed to ABC News.
The former President was also provided with a private jet to travel to Houston at a cost of $20,000, the officials said.
The charity, which helps to provide specially-adapted homes for veterans who lost limbs and suffered other severe injuries in “the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said the total $170,000 expenditure was justified because the former President and First Lady offered discounted fees and helped raise record amounts in contributions at galas held in 2011 and 2012.
“It was great because he reduced his normal fee of $250,000 down to $100,000,” said Meredith Iler, the former chairman of the charity.
However, a recent report by Politico said the former President’s fees typically ranged between $100,000 and $175,000 during those years.
One of the wounded vets who served on the charity’s board told ABC News he was outraged that his former commander in chief would charge any fee to speak on behalf of men and women he ordered into harm's way.
“For him to be paid to raise money for veterans that were wounded in combat under his orders, I don’t think that’s right,” said former Marine Eddie Wright, who lost both hands in a rocket attack in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004.
“You sent me to war,” added Wright speaking of the former President. “I was doing what you told me to do, gladly for you and our country and I have no regrets. But it’s kind of a slap in the face.”
Former U.S. Presidents have turned the speaker’s circuit into a major source of income for their post-presidential years. Ronald Reagan faced criticism in 1989 for accepting $2 million for speeches in Japan. Bill Clinton has brought in more than $100 million in post-presidential speaking fees. Bush, similarly, recognized the opportunity, reportedly telling author Robert Draper he planned to "replenish the ol' coffers" on the lecture circuit. But as the commander-in-chief responsible for the prosecution of two bloody wars, Bush has faced a unique dilemma when it has come to addressing military veterans groups.
A spokesperson for former President Bill Clinton said he "has never received" a speaking fee for addressing a veterans' group. A spokesperson for former President Bush’s father, George Herbert Walker Bush, said it has been several years since the elder Bush had given a speech, but said that he did not recall a fee being requested for charity events. On a “handful of occasions” Bush Sr.'s appearance may have been underwritten to cover costs for the charities, spokesman Jim McGrath said. H.W. Bush reportedly appeared at a Helping a Hero event in 2008.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was the featured speaker at last year’s Helping a Hero charity fundraiser and did not charge a fee. A representative for former President Jimmy Carter said he does not have a specific policy but often donates his honoraria to the Carter Center.
A lawyer for Helping a Hero, Christopher Tritico, said he could not answer why former President George W. Bush did not speak for free.
“I think it's a valid question for the former President,” he said. “It's not a valid question for a charity who raised an extra million dollars.”
According to the charity’s yearly reports to the IRS, it raised about $2,450,000, after expenses, from the 2012 gala where President Bush spoke. The following year, the gala netted the charity substantially less, about $1,000,000.
Speaking and traveling fees for the former President were paid by the charity, but the amount was underwritten by a private donor, the charity lawyer said.
A spokesperson for the former President, Freddy Ford, confirmed the payment but declined to comment on the criticism over the $100,000 speaking fee from the veterans' charity.
In an e-mail statement, Ford said, “President Bush has made helping veterans one of his highest priorities in his post presidency.”
He said the former President has hosted golf tournaments and mountain bike rides for veterans and was working on the Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative to help “give returning veterans the first-class support they deserve.”