POLITICS
05/31/2015 10:00 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2015

Banks Behind Hillary Clinton's Canadian Speeches Really Want The Keystone Pipeline

KEENE, NH - APRIL 20:  Democratic presidential hopeful and former U.S. Sectetary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to employees
KEENE, NH - APRIL 20: Democratic presidential hopeful and former U.S. Sectetary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to employees of Whitney Brothers, an educational furniture manufacturer, at a round table discussionon April 20, 2015 in Keene, New Hampshire. This marks Clinton's first major political event in New Hampshire after announcing her campaign for president a little over a week ago. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- Two Canadian banks tightly connected to promoting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in the United States either fully or partially paid for eight speeches made by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the period not long before she announced her campaign for president. Those speeches put more than $1.6 million in the Democratic candidate's pocket.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and TD Bank were both primary sponsors of paid Clinton speeches in 2014 and early 2015, although only the former appears on the financial disclosure form she filed May 15. According to that document, CIBC paid Clinton $150,000 for a speech she gave in Whistler, British Columbia, on Jan. 22, 2015.

Clinton reported that another five speeches she gave across Canada were paid for by tinePublic Inc., a promotional company known for hosting speeches by world leaders and celebrities. Another speech was reported as paid for by the think tank Canada 2020, while yet another speech was reportedly funded by the Vancouver Board of Trade. But a review of invitations, press releases and media reports for those seven other speeches reveals that they, too, were either sponsored by or directly involved the two banks.

Both banks have financial ties to TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, and have advocated for a massive increase in pipeline capacity, including construction of Keystone. Further, Gordon Giffin, a CIBC board member and onetime U.S. ambassador to Canada, is a former lobbyist for TransCanada and was a contributions bundler for Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

It is not immediately clear what the sponsorship of speeches by the two banks entailed. Did they pay upfront costs to tinePublic to cover Clinton’s fees? Did they purchase a large number of tickets to underwrite the event? The banks themselves were not helpful on that score.

Ali Duncan Martin, a TD Bank spokeswoman, told The Huffington Post in an email that the bank sponsored a series of speeches by both Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton starting in 2008. (Bill Clinton received more than $1.6 million for speeches sponsored by TD Bank, according to past financial disclosures.) The bank was the “title sponsor or a co-sponsor of the events, with most events having a number of sponsors participating,” according to Martin. She declined to say how much the bank spent in sponsoring the speeches.

Spokespeople from CIBC did not respond to a request for comment. One event invite, however, indicated that CIBC provided tickets the company had purchased to others. “Kindly RSVP to your CIBC Advisor and advise of any dietary restrictions,” the invite stated.

Some details of Hillary Clinton's Canadian speechifying were first reported by independent journalist Ron Brynaert. The Clinton campaign did not respond to The Huffington Post's request for comment.

Clinton’s first swing through Canada started on March 5, 2014, with a speech that cost the Vancouver Board of Trade $275,500. While Clinton’s financial disclosure form reported the board as the payer, an invite to the event also lists “presenting sponsors” as TD Bank and Vancouver City Savings Credit Union. Following her speech, Clinton participated in a question-and-answer session hosted by TD Bank Deputy Chairman Frank McKenna.

The next day in Calgary, Clinton gave another speech reportedly paid for by tinePublic at a cost of $225,500. McKenna also came along to interview her after the speech. Martin confirmed that TD Bank also sponsored this speech.

In June, Clinton gave a speech in Toronto for a price of $150,000. The primary sponsor was TD Bank, according to an invite. Other sponsors included the Canadian Club of Toronto, Blakes Lawyers, KPMG and the Real Estate Investment Network. For the third time, McKenna interviewed Clinton after the speech.

Clinton went west to the city of Edmonton on June 18 to give another tinePublic-paid speech for a $100,000 price. The chief sponsor of this speech, according to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, was CIBC. Victor Dodig, then senior executive vice president at CIBC, interviewed Clinton on stage after her remarks.

On Oct. 6, 2014, Clinton traveled up north again to speak at a meeting hosted by the liberal think tank Canada 2020. CIBC, which is also a funder of Canada 2020, was the primary sponsor of this $215,500 speech, according to a Canada 2020 web page for the event. Lesser sponsors included Air Canada, the Canadian Real Estate Association, Johnson & Johnson, Ernst & Young, Stampede Group and Telus. Again, Dodig, by then promoted to president and CEO, handled the Q&A session.

Over a span of two days in January, Clinton gave three more speeches -- one directly paid for by CIBC and two paid by tinePublic, but sponsored by CIBC. On Jan. 21, she spoke in Winnipeg for $262,000 and then Saskatoon for $262,500. The next day she spoke at that CIBC event in Whistler for $150,000 -- the only speech directly reported on her financial disclosure form as having been paid for by a Canadian bank. Dodig pitched questions to Clinton after each of these three speeches.

CIBC and TD Bank both have large energy portfolios and have pushed for the U.S. government to approve final construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would link the Canadian oil sands in Alberta through the middle of the United States to Texas and the Gulf of Mexico.

Since the Keystone pipeline is being built across national boundaries by a foreign company, TransCanada, it requires approval from the U.S. State Department. While serving as secretary of state, Clinton said that she was “inclined” to approve the pipeline. Since then, she has been mum on the issue, even as environmentalists -- with their major grassroots and money sway in the Democratic Party -- have made stopping the pipeline a priority.

“Like all major banks, institutional investors, and pensions, we invest in the energy sector. On Keystone we are one of many financing partners,” TD Bank’s Martin said, adding that the bank is “not a fundamental shareholder in TransCanada.”

Whether the U.S. government will approve further construction of the pipeline was a hot topic in each of the Q&A sessions hosted by the bank executives. And at every turn, Clinton refused to answer.

“No comment,” she told TD Bank’s McKenna during that first speech in Vancouver. She further explained that it would not be right for her to comment while the State Department was still debating the project.

McKenna returned to the topic the next day in Calgary, asking Clinton whether the delay in the approval process was driven by domestic politics. She answered that the review process is “very comprehensive” and that “it’s important not to let whatever that decision is on one pipeline color the potential for co-operation across the board between the United States and Canada on energy production and climate change.”

In Toronto, McKenna continued to push Clinton on the pipeline, which she said should not “be a proxy for the relationship” between the two countries.

CIBC’s Dodig also asked Clinton about Keystone at each of her five CIBC-sponsored speeches. In Winnipeg, she replied to Dodig’s question on the subject, “You won't get me to talk about Keystone because I have steadily made clear that I'm not going to express an opinion.”

She did, however, express an opinion when asked whether the U.S. and Canada could work together to harmonize energy and environmental regulations. That idea has been pursued by Canadian energy companies and other Keystone backers as a possible trade-off for approval of pipeline construction.

In Vancouver, Clinton told McKenna that she would consider the possibility of creating a group to work on regulatory harmonization and would “personally convey” the idea to those in power in Washington. She also noted the need for “greater symmetry” in the electrical grids and oil and gas supply lines of the two countries.

TD Bank and CIBC's interest in the energy sector is not limited to the construction of Keystone XL. The two banks also support the construction of pipelines in Canada heading west to the Pacific and east to the Atlantic as alternative means of getting the country's crude oil into the international market. In 2012, they both published reports calling the construction of these pipelines a “national priority.”

One of those alternatives is the construction of the Energy East pipeline, which would move oil from Alberta to ports in Quebec. But that plan by TransCanada is opposed by Gaz Metro, a Quebec-based natural gas company.

It just so happens that Clinton’s only recent Canadian speech not involving TD Bank or CIBC was sponsored by Gaz Metro. According to her financial disclosure form, the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal paid her $275,000 for a March 18, 2014, speech. An invite for the event lists Gaz Metro as a sponsor, along with La Presse, CJAD radio, Loto Quebec, Osler Lawyers and the Montreal Gazette. The Q&A session was hosted by Gaz Metro President and CEO Sophie Brochu.

The Gaz Metro-sponsored speech was the only such event at which Clinton was not directly asked about the Keystone pipeline.

If President Barack Obama neglects to make a final decision on the pipeline in his last year and a half, the question would fall to the next president and his or her secretary of state.

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