Paid speaking engagements are a virtual ATM that can fund anything else Obama wants to do in life. It seems a foregone conclusion that Obama, whose campaign speeches electrified the nation in 2008, will keep the oratorical magic alive after he leaves office. The first step is signing with an agency. "The Washington Speakers Bureau, the Harry Walker Agency in New York City-they're all going to get into the biggest bidding war ever," says Ari Fleischer, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush. "So he'll be rich. And happy." Obama earns a $400,000 annual salary now. As a private citizen behind a lectern, he could make more than that per hour, speaking to universities, corporate conferences, and other elite gatherings.
Superhigh fees, though, create political pitfalls. Ronald Reagan drew intense criticism for accepting $2 million for a pair of speeches in Japan in 1989. Bill Clinton was lambasted for his first postpresidential speech, at a Morgan Stanley conference in Florida, for which he was paid more than $100,000, as it came amid furor over his pardon of donor Marc Rich.
While Obama could command stratospheric rates, given his prestige and silver tongue, the safer course is to take it slow, says Bill Leigh, whose Leigh Bureau has represented paid speakers for more than 80 years. "There's a tendency of people leaving Washington to say, 'I wanna get mine, right now.' It doesn't maximize revenue or reputation."
What would he do with all that dough? Build a compound in Hawaii? An ownership stake in his beloved Chicago Bulls? More likely for the serious-minded Obama: plowing the money back into his new foundation (see below).
Annual Earnings: $10 million or more
Likelihood: Very high