Hillary Clinton, the presumed frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, will give a pair of speeches Wednesday in Canada co-hosted by a major bank that has been the subject of several investigations into wrongdoing over the past dozen years.
Clinton refused to say if she's being paid for the speeches and the bank says it is unaware of Clinton’s contractual agreement. But the appearances are all but certain to fuel complaints that she's too close to the corporate elites, especially coming a day after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech focusing on the plight of the middle class and signs that several top Republicans also plan to make economic populism a centerpiece of their campaigns.
Clinton has given dozens of speeches since leaving office as Secretary of State, many for free and many drawing paychecks of as much as $200,000 to $300,000. The Wednesday addresses could stand out, as they’ll be hosted by a foreign bank with a history of investigations by U.S. officials.
In 2003, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce settled a case with the Securities and Exchange Commission for $80 million for allegedly helping the Enron energy company mislead investors through a series of transactions over a period of several years, according to the SEC. At least two executives agreed to settle charges of aiding and abetting the fraud, paying a total of $600,000.
In 2005, CIBC settled another case with SEC for $125 million after it was accused of financing late trading to increase their customers' trading profits at the expense of long-term mutual fund shareholders, according to the SEC.
And again in 2005, the bank agreed to pay nearly a half million dollars to settle SEC allegations that it broke the law by underwriting municipal securities for the state of California after making campaign donations to six politicians, including former Democratic California Gov. Gray Davis, according to the SEC. Securities law forbids a corporate donor from doing municipal securities work for an issuer within two years of a contribution.
More recently, it was hit with a series of class action lawsuits seeking $4 billion over allegations that it did not adequately warn investors of its exposure to the U.S. subprime market. In each case, even the ones in which CIBC settled, it denied any wrongdoing.
Clinton will speak in Winnipeg and Saskatoon as part of the Global Perspective speaker’s series, which counts the Toronto-based bank with millions of clients and tens of thousands of employees as a top sponsor. Bank CEO Victor Dodig will moderate Clinton’s appearance, according to Canadian press reports.
A Clinton spokesman did not respond to questions from McClatchy. The bank did not initially respond, but did Monday after the article was first published.
Bank spokesman Kevin Dove said all of the cases, including the more recent class action suit, stem from a U.S.-based subsidiary that CIBC owned. The subsidiary was sold seven years ago, he said.
Dove said overall, and especially in the seven years following the financial crisis, U.S. and European banks have been investigated at a much greater rate and been fined amounts much larger than CIBC.
“Today, the management of CIBC is regarded as one of the best managed banks in the world,” Dove said. “Over the past four years, Bloomberg Markets has ranked CIBC the strongest bank in North America and one of the strongest banks in the world and Global Finance magazine ranks us as one of the 10 Safest Banks in North America.”
Clinton has given numerous paid speeches, reportedly earning $200,000 or more for each, since she stepped down as the nation’s top diplomat two years ago. Many of them have been closed to the public, taking place in front of business-friendly groups such as trade associations or lobbying organizations.
She also has embarked on an unpaid cross-country tour at various institutes and organizations, speaking on a series of issues that could put her in a better position if she decides to run for president.
She’s scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women Feb. 24 and a conference organized by the New York and New Jersey chapter of the American Camp Association March 19.
But it’s the paid speeches complete with hefty paychecks and perks that have caused controversy, leading some to accuse her of appearing out of touch.
“Hillary Clinton has been raking in cash from speeches to the wealthy elite for years,” said Jeff Bechdel, a spokesman for America Rising, a conservative opposition research group. “It’s no surprise Clinton is getting paid by a company that has off-shore accounts and will lobby the U.S. government for more favorable treatment if she becomes president. That’s just the corrupt way the Clintons do business.”
The IRS investigated whether a CIBC subsidiary, FirstCaribbean International Bank, assisted wealthy Americans in hiding income offshore to evade taxes, part of a broader crackdown on offshore accounts, primarily in Switzerland and the Caribbean, according to the Justice Department. Bank officials pledge to cooperate in the inquiry, according to news reports.
Dove said the IRS is looking into all financial institutions that have clients with offshore accounts. He said CIBC has seen news reports and even documents about the inquiry but has not been contacted.
Clinton, 67, has said she will make up her mind about running for president later this year. She is already the presumed front-runner for her party’s nomination in 2016.
The liberal wing of the Democratic party is urging potential candidates, including Clinton, to take on the same issues, primarily income equality, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
“As a presidential candidate, there are a lot of unchecked boxes with Hillary Clinton when it comes to economic populism and corporate accountability,” said Adam Green, co-founder Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “Anyone running for president needs to stand for Elizabeth Warren’s big economic populism ideas – like breaking up the ‘too big to fail’ banks that crashed our economy. To inspire the public, Democrats must fight for the little guy.”
Kevin G. Hall contributed to this report.