In early February, my corporate overlords sent word that Rudy Giuliani had agreed to deliver a keynote address at the Buyouts Symposium East conference in April. It was a big get for us, particularly considering that he was a de facto presidential candidate and had become a near-mythological hero after 9/11. It also was a bit surprising that someone in his position would accept a paid speaking gig, but it wasn’t my place to sweat such details. In fact, I thought it was pretty smart for a likely presidential candidate not only speak in front of a bunch of rich private equity folks – but to also pocket some cash while doing so.
Fast forward to now: Rudy Giuliani is no longer speaking at Buyouts Symposium East. He also turned down a chance to give tens of thousands of dollars to charity. So what happened?
Well, apparently Giuliani was the only person in America who didn’t know he was running for president. The deal he signed with us only excused him for the standard out of extraordinary circumstances, which typically means something like death in the family, terrorist attack or natural disaster (or at least natural inconvenience like a spring blizzard). But after the presidential sweepstakes heated up earlier than expected, Rudy dropped the pretense by telling Larry King: “Yes, I’m running.”
The very next day, a Washington Post article ran which questioned the propriety of candidate Giuliani receiving speaking fees. The article stressed that the practice is not illegal for non-federal officeholders – so long as the speeches are neither overtly political nor designed to raise campaign contributions. But, just one breath later, it also noted that former candidate Wesley Clark returned money for motivational speeches he gave, and that John Edwards had canceled a paid gig scheduled before he decided to run. In other words, a possible mini-scandal had emerged.
So Giuliani’s people called our people to cancel. Our response was to offer the following solutions: We asked that Giuliani still give the speech he had contractually committed to give, but that we would donate his entire speaking fee to the charity of his choice. I don’t know the specific dollar amount, but safe to say it would have been tens of thousands of dollars to a nonprofit that certainly could of used it (ever seen one that couldn’t?).
But we were rebuffed. It seems that Giuliani was only concerned about Giuliani – not with the simultaneous virtues of keeping his word and helping out those in need. If I were a registered Republican, he would have lost my vote.