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Speaking Fees of the Rich and Marginally Famous

In February, the Knight Foundation—a nonprofit devoted to the future of journalism—paid disgraced science writer Jonah Lehrer $20,000 to speak at a conference, only months after he was nailed for plagiarism and fabricating quotes. When the dollar amount became public, Knight apologized for rewarding bad behavior. But the fee itself wasn’t abnormal: Pretty much anyone with a smidgen of name-recognition can rake it in with canned speeches at conventions, graduations, and retreats—and you can find out how much many of them make on speaking bureaus’ websites. Need a headline-grabbing entrepreneur who can talk about hip-hop and the fashion industry? Russell Simmons is yours for $40,000. How about an ex-secretary of state and potential future president? Hillary Clinton will run you $200,000. Even relatively unknown futurists and “business visionaries” can land a few grand for 40 minutes of blather. We grouped a sample of speakers by their fees as a window into the caste system where everyone’s getting rich.