Honorarium (plural honoraria) for public officials is a polite word for bribery. It is often referred to now as speaking fees. The United States Congress eliminated members accepting honoraria in 1989. The Clinton family is reported to have accepted over $100,000,000 in speaking fees and honorarium since 2000.
Prior to 1989, members of Congress routinely scheduled daily breakfast meetings with 4 or 5 lobbyists for which they received an honorarium. Members anecdotally defined honorarium as "$1000 and a bran muffin" for a 45-minute sit-down meeting. Honorarium as a source of fundraising was eliminated in the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 (ERA).
Traditionally there have been two types of speaking fees or honoraria paid to public figures.
- Motivational speakers, such as Tony Robbins or Earl Nightingale usually at corporate events which are entirely for-profit;
- Honoraria to public figures and celebrities for charitable fundraisers as a top-billing headliner to draw in larger crowds and donations. These types of "honorarium", usually paid by the non-profit entity out of the cash-take at the fundraiser, must be considered by the recipient as for-profit income. In other words, a speaker who accepts honoraria at a charitable event is not donating his or her time, they are taking money intended by donors as a charitable contribution and using it for personal gain. This is considered by many as an abusive loophole in the United States tax code.