Robert Reich: When I Had To Send A Personal Check To Bill Gates, For Lunch – OpEd


Clarence Thomas’s bizarre claim that he failed to disclose the lavish gifts he received from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow because he didn’t believe he had to brought me back to a day 30 years ago when Bill Gates asked me to lunch. 

I was secretary of labor then. Gates was the CEO of Microsoft, and the richest person in America. 

Curious and flattered, I accepted his invitation. 

I don’t recall much about the lunch except that it was at an expensive restaurant, and everything Gates said struck me as rather predictable. 

When I returned to my office, the Labor Department’s chief lawyer stopped by to ask if I had enjoyed the lunch, and if I had paid for my portion. I was embarrassed to tell him that paying had never occurred to me. I was having lunch with Bill Gates, for crying out loud. 

The chief lawyer patiently explained that federal law barred employees of the executive branch from accepting gifts whose value exceeded $50 — which would include my extravagant lunch with Bill Gates. “There are exceptions,” he said, “but my advice is that you send Gates a check for the value of your lunch.”

“Really?” I asked, incredulously. “I don’t even know how much it cost!”

He whipped out a piece of paper. “We phoned his office, and you owe him $120.”

“But…” I stammered.

“Oh, and be sure to make it a personal check,” he said. “I can have it delivered to his hotel this afternoon. For safety sake, add $15 to cover the cost of delivery.”

So I did what the Labor Department’s chief lawyer advised I do. I made out a check to Bill Gates for $135.00. 

I believe, but cannot be sure (this was 30 years ago), that he cashed it.

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

One thought on “Robert Reich: When I Had To Send A Personal Check To Bill Gates, For Lunch – OpEd

  • April 15, 2023 at 4:51 pm

    I worked as a research assistant for a Member of the Canadian Parliament in 1979. In 1980,there was a surprise election and I was expected to go back to the riding and campaign.
    For six to eight weeks,I received no salary because campaigning and taking a salary from Parliament was prohibited. In the end,my member lost,I got a small severance and was out of work. This was 1980 but to be seen breaking the rules would have been totally embarrassing and unacceptable. For a Supreme Court justice not to know that accepting gifts was morally wrong doesn’t pass the smell test,taste test or visual test.


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