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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.[1] 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).[2]

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.