Reid declines to second-guess UNLV paying for Hillary Clinton speech

WASHINGTON — Sen. Harry Reid on Thursday declined to second-guess officials at the UNLV Foundation who have agreed to pay $225,000 for Hillary Clinton to speak at a fundraiser this fall, a month after she is speaking for free at an energy conference Reid and the university are holding in Las Vegas.

The Nevada Democrat in an interview held a 15-second pause before answering whether he thought the fee was a good use of money by the foundation, a nonprofit that raises and manages funds to benefit the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The fee has sparked debate over its size and its payment to a political figure and presumptive presidential candidate who is supportive of public education goals.

“There are people who work on that foundation who have done it for a long, long time, and they do it, as I understand it, without compensation,” Reid said. “They do it because it is the right thing to do.

“Anything we can do to focus attention on UNLV, that’s extremely important to do, and this certainly will focus attention on UNLV, and that’s why they have these people come,” Reid said.

“I didn’t have anything to do with the decision,” he added.

The UNLV Foundation board of trustees selected Clinton, former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady, to be the keynote speaker at its Oct. 13 dinner at the Bellagio. Seats are $200 individually, but donors also can buy full tables for 10 at various contribution levels, including for $20,000, $10,000, $5,000 and $3,000.

Contributors of $20,000 get invited to a private reception and to have their pictures taken with Clinton and get autographed copies of her new book, “Hard Choices,” that she is touring to sell.

A UNLV spokeswoman said Clinton’s fee is covered by private sponsorships and not public money. The money is paid to Clinton’s public speaking agency and goes to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

A month earlier, on Sept. 4, Clinton is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at the Clean Energy Summit at Mandalay Bay. The event is an annual conference sponsored by Reid, UNLV, MGM Resorts and the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.

Reid confirmed Clinton is not charging to speak at the summit.

“Hillary and President Clinton are my friends and she does a lot of stuff for people around the country,” Reid said. Plus, he said, clean energy “is her issue anyway. She has been great on the environment, she has been great on energy and her husband, too.”

Reid noted it is not unusual for former public officials to charge audiences to hear them speak, and the fees are set according to what the market will bear.

“It’s part of our free-enterprise system,” he said

Reid, the Senate majority leader, covered several topics in an interview shortly before the Senate was scheduled to depart on a weeklong recess tied to the Fourth of July holiday.

During the week, Reid was expected to attend the Tennessee funeral of former Majority Leader Howard Baker, and was scheduled to hold several public events in Las Vegas. But he also was to meet with movers who are packing up the Searchlight home he and his wife, Landra, recently sold to a gold mining company.

On other topics:

— Reid, the most prominent public official who is a member of the Mormon Church, declined to give a view on the church’s excommunication of Kate Kelly, the founder of a movement that advocates opening the Mormon priesthood to women.

In November Reid spoke openly to a panel of journalists about the church and gay rights. But he demurred when asked Thursday about Kelly or the role of women in the Mormon Church.

Reid suggested he has had discussions within his family on the topic but declined to talk about it publicly.

“I don’t do religion here,” Reid said. “I do a lot of things but I don’t do religion. It’s a personal thing to me. I’ve had discussions with my family on all these issues. I had one last night, but it’s not something I do publicly.”

— Reid and his wife have looked at homes in the Anthem community of Henderson, the city where several of their sons live with their families. But Reid said he is increasingly intrigued with Summerlin, the northwest Las Vegas community undergoing major investment and improvements.

“The more I see about this Summerlin, the more I am interested in it,” Reid said. “I am going to talk with Landra and see if she would be willing to take a look up there. They have some condos up there that are really nice already.”

The Reids are packing to move from Searchlight, where they have lived for the past 25 years. Like many other people, Reid said he is daunted by the move, particularly one he is trying to manage from afar and with little time in a busy schedule. He said he has not yet received cash from the sale of his Searchlight property and so “I’m not going to rush and buy anything, and I’ve been looking.”

Reid sold his 110-acre Searchlight property for $1.75 million in a transaction that included mineral rights and water rights in addition to the surface land and the home he and his wife had built about 15 years ago. The sale was to Nevada Milling and Mining, one of several companies exploring for gold in Searchlight.

The transaction has been scrutinized as have Reid’s other land purchases and sales since he became Senate leader.

Asked to respond to speculation he got a “sweetheart deal,” Reid chuckled, “I hope I did. That’s what this great free enterprise system is all about.

“They wanted my property,” he said. “They wanted to develop what I had, so we made a deal.”

Before the real estate collapse a half dozen years ago, “everybody was after my property,” he said.

— At the same time he crusades against the name of the Washington Redskins as racist and offensive to Native Americans, Reid says he does root for the team on the field.

“I pull for the Washington football team,” Reid said, although he does not consider himself a professional football fan and would counsel his grandchildren not to play the game because he considers it dangerous. The size and speed of players nowadays “is just too much, and it’s been shown it’s not good for your head.”

“I’d rather go to a baseball game. I’d rather watch a tennis match,” Reid said. “I’d rather watch soccer. I’m glad people enjoy football, but I don’t enjoy it that much. I do like college football.”

Reid said he attended one Redskins game, soon after he arrived in Washington in the early 1980s. He could not remember the opposing team or who won.

What he remembers: “It was cold and before halftime somebody stumbled and fell and dumped a beer down my back, not on purpose. If they did it today, I’d think they’d be doing it on purpose. But I think he just had too much to drink.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.