Former FBI Director James Comey’s visit to UNLV last month for a moderated discussion with former Gov. Brian Sandoval, book signing and dinner with up to two dozen “VIPs” cost the university’s law school $54,000, according to records obtained by The Nevada Independent.
According to a contract between the university and a booking agency representing Comey, the former FBI director’s September 24 visit to UNLV and speech to the university, “The Ethical Leader,” cost the university’s law school a pretty penny, but a spokeswoman for the university said that all costs were paid by a donor and that Comey reduced his normal speaking fee for the event.
“Mr. Comey substantially reduced his customary rate because the address was made at a public university for the benefit of our students and he was able to tie in this engagement with other West Coast events,” UNLV spokeswoman Cindy Brown said in an email.
The contract offers a behind-the-scenes look into the benefits, requirements and accommodations that the university made to Comey, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama as FBI director in 2013, achieved national notoriety over his handling of Hillary Clinton’s email server in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election and was publicly fired by President Donald Trump in May 2017.
Per the contract, the $54,000 fee included transportation to and from the airport, hotel (The Bellagio) and university for the event and other meetings, which ran for nearly six hours.
In addition to the publicized 90-minute moderated discussion with Sandoval and book signing, Comey was also contractually obligated to hold an “informal Meet and Greet” with 10-12 “community members,’” with “candid photos taken.”
Post event, the contract also called for a two-hour “Dinner offsite with invited guests.” Brown said in an email that the dinner, which was attended by about 15 people, was a fundraiser for the law school’s “Law and Leadership Program,” and that a donor covered the costs of the dinner.
Although the university states that the speaking fee was paid for through charitable donations, the university declined to identify the donors under a state law that exempts university foundations from portions of public record law, including “the name of any contributor or potential contributor to the university foundation, the amount of his or her contribution or any information which may reveal or lead to the discovery of his or her identity.”
The series and “Law and Leadership Program” are programs headed by Sandoval and former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, each of whom were named a “Distinguished Fellow in Law and Policy” in 2018. The symposium series kicked off earlier in September with a panel of former senators and governors, including former Sen. Dean Heller, former Sen. and Gov. Richard Bryan, and former Gov. Robert List.
The contract also includes prohibitions on media coverage of the event, allowing for “local” media to attend the event and record the first three minutes for “b-roll” (video, no audio.) “No other recordings by the media are permitted,” the contract states.
A full video of the event was recorded for “archival…and educational purposes,” by the university, but can only be accessed on the university’s “password protected internal portal” and can only be accessed by law school students, faculty and “partners.”
In spite of the limits on media coverage, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported some of Comey’s remarks on his decision to notify Congress just before the 2016 election that the bureau had reopened an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and his overall thoughts on ethical leadership.
According to a recent New York Times profile, Comey has “suffered no deficiency of platforms” since leaving the agency, signing a contract to write opinion pieces in The Washington Post in addition to giving speeches on “ethical leadership” to both college campuses and paid bookings that “command a six-figure fee.” Comey declined to state his precise speaking fee to the Times, beyond saying “It’s a lot.”
According to his biography on the Washington Speakers Bureau website, Comey has “expertise” in “Courage, Leadership, National Security, U.S. Current Events and Patriotism,” and is available to speak to “Board Meetings and Executive Briefings,” “Senior Management Groups,” “The Professional Services Industry,” “Corporations,” and “Lecture Series.”
A spokeswoman for the speaker’s bureau did not return a request for comment. Washington Speakers Bureau contracts with a wide variety of former political figures and celebrities, including former United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron, baseball Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice and John Kerry.
Previous speakers who have appeared before the law school include former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, historian Deborah Lipstadt, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, former Rep. Jane Harman and President Trump’s former White House Counsel Don McGahn. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke at the law school’s 20th anniversary gala in 2018, did not sign a contract or apparently receive payment for his appearance, UNLV officials said in responding to a prior records request submitted by The Nevada Independent.