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Wall Street Offers a Second Career for Former Politicians

The revolving door is in full swing in Congress as ousted politicians find lucrative jobs on Wall Street.

When you wake up on Wednesday morning and find out whether Mitt Romney or Barack Obama will be in the White House next year, don’t pity the loser. He can always have a future career in high finance.

It’s quite a lucrative one, too.

Take Tony Blair, the former British prime minister. In September, Mr. Blair was called to Claridge’s hotel in London to mediate a renegotiation of the proposed acquisition of Xstrata by Glencore, according to British news reports. Mr. Blair, who negotiated peace in Northern Ireland, put his skills to good use, apparently earning himself roughly $1 million for three hours of work.

That’s not a bad hourly rate, and it’s in addition to the reported $4 million a year he is paid by JPMorgan Chase to be a senior adviser and “provide briefings on political trends.” You’ll be happy to know, by the way, that Mr. Blair was able to save the Xstrata deal. Wall Street likes former politicians for lots of reasons. Perhaps like Mr. Blair they are good negotiators or mediators when a deal needs to be done.

But another reason is that they are simply good with people.

Remember Dan Quayle? Since 2000, the former vice president has worked at the hedge fund Cerberus Capital Management, where he is now chairman of the advisory board. His pay is not disclosed, but it is probably well into the millions if not more. And what does Mr. Quayle do for this money?

According to his personal Web site, he “regularly travels throughout the U.S., Europe, and Asia to meet with the heads of investment banks, corporations, buyout shops, potential investors and other business leaders,” among other things. In other words, he’s a very well-paid schmoozer. In fairness, the former vice president states he also does things like advise Cerberus on the conduct of business by its portfolio companies.

Not only can vice presidents make money in finance by chatting up people, they can also build empires. Al Gore shows that you can use Wall Street to become superrich and do it in the name of a cause, all while building your own franchise. Mr. Gore is a co-founder and chairman of Generation Investment Management and a senior partner of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. He’s also a senior adviser to Google and a member of Apple’s board, where he has options on about 98,000 Apple shares, according to the company’s last proxy statement. Apple, by the way, is trading at about $580 a share. You do the math.

Mr. Gore’s efforts are part of his mission to alert the world to global warming and embrace the environmental causes he firmly believes in. It’s unclear what the former vice president does at Kleiner, but Generation Investment is focused on investing in sustainable companies. Mr. Gore closed the fund in 2008, having raised $5 billion. Whether this works is unclear because the fund’s returns are not disclosed, but as of Sept. 30, the fund still had at least $3.6 billion. Mr. Gore has made millions building a finance empire based on his beliefs.

Sometimes it’s not for a cause, but simply for the money. Mr. Gore’s former boss, Bill Clinton, is most widely known in his post-presidential period for his work with the Clinton Global Initiative. But the former president has also made millions working in finance. Mr. Clinton was an adviser to Ronald W. Burkle’s investment firm, the Yucaipa Companies, and made at least $15 million in that position.

Mr. Clinton’s job was apparently to promote Yucaipa and enhance Mr. Burkle’s reputation, and as Mr. Burkle put it to BusinessWeek after the two had a falling out, “When Clinton left the presidency he had to make money, and there were certain limits on how he could do it.” Until March of this year, Mr. Clinton also served as a paid adviser to another private equity and financial consulting firm, Teneo Capital. It’s no surprise that the former president recently said that private equity was “good work.” It was for him.

Private equity is a favorite of prominent former politicians because it is often less public than investment banking or other finance jobs. Private equity firms like the connections former politicians bring for deal-making. Private equity is also an equal opportunity employer across both sides of the aisle. George H. W. Bush was involved with private equity after his term as president was up, serving as an adviser to the Carlyle Group until 2003. Carlyle is a bastion of political refugees. Frank Carlucci, a former secretary of defense, served as chairman, and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III has also been an adviser.

And if working for the industry as a deal maker, schmoozer, adviser or just as a name is a problem, a former politician can always find freelance opportunities in speaking to the finance industry.

President Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, has largely stayed away from business ventures after leaving the White House. But he has taken to the speakers’ circuit, where fees can run more than $100,000 a speech. Last week, the former president gave a speech at the Ritz-Carlton on Grand Cayman Island at the Cayman Alternative Investment Summit. The speech was closed to journalists and raised some eyebrows because the idea behind such a conference was to promote investing outside the United States. But according to the organization’s Web site, Mr. Bush offered “his thoughts on eight years in the Oval Office, the challenges facing our nation in the 21st century, the power of freedom and the role of faith.” I just want to say to the organizers that next year, I can talk about three of these four topics, at half the price.

Such $100,000 speaking engagements are mostly from finance organizations — after all, they are the ones with the money. One of Sarah Palin’s first speeches following her tenure as governor of Alaska was in Hong Kong to the CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets meeting, a gathering of Asian investors that advertises itself as “Asia’s premier investment conference.” She was reportedly paid $100,000 for the speech. Bill Clinton and Al Gore have also addressed this conference, as well as Mike Tyson.

So what does this mean for Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama? Well, it’s hard to see either one plunging knee-deep into Wall Street. Mr. Romney has already made his private equity money. As for Mr. Obama, it just doesn’t seem to be in his DNA. This doesn’t mean that either will pass up the occasional $100,000 speaking engagement.

I can’t begrudge politicians making money after years of relatively low-paid public service. But at best, this is clearly a case of not asking where the money is coming from. The wholesale involvement of politicians in finance as opposed to, say, working at industrial America or advising the nation’s educational and charitable institutions may be a serious misdirection of resources. More sinisterly, as Simon Johnson and James Kwak contend in their book “13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown” (Pantheon Books), a too cozy relationship between Wall Street and Washington was a direct cause of the financial crisis. Whether or not they are right, the ties remain surprisingly strong, making one wonder whether we are repeating the mistakes of the past.

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