Ex-RNC chiefs rip Steele speak­ing fees

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HALLOW

Michael S. Steele, Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man, is us­ing his ti­tle to mar­ket him­self for paid ap­pear­ances na­tion­wide, per­son­ally prof­it­ing from speeches with fees of up to $20,000 at colleges, trade as­so­ci­a­tions and other groups — an un­usual prac­tice crit­i­cized by a string of past party chair­men.

Mr. Steele, elected in Jan­uary to the $223,500-a-year RNC post, is work­ing with at least four out­side agen­cies in Wash­ing­ton, New York, Bos­ton and Nashville, Tenn. that book the speak­ing en­gage­ments. He charges be­tween $8,000 and $20,000 for an ad­dress, plus first-class travel and lodg­ing ex­penses.

One of the book­ing agen­cies, Lead­ing Au­thor­i­ties — Great Events Start Here, with offices in Wash­ing­ton and Chicago, has a color photo of Mr. Steele on its Web site, where he is ad­ver­tised as “Chair­man of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, For­mer Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor of Mary­land.”

Harry San­dler, who han­dles Mr. Steele’s book­ings at New­ton, Mass.-based Amer­i­can Pro­gram Bureau, told The Wash­ing­ton Times that Mr. Steele “tends” to charge be­tween $10,000 and $15,000 for an ap­pear­ance and that he re­ceived roughly that amount for a Sept. 21 speech at Phi­lan­der Smith Col­lege in Lit­tle Rock, Ark. Mr. Steele has an up­com­ing speak­ing en­gage­ment at DePaul Uni­ver­sity in Chicago, for which he will be paid $12,500.

“Holy mack­erel, I never head of a chair­man of ei­ther party ever tak­ing money for speeches,” said Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., RNC chair­man un­der Pres­i­dent Rea­gan and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Amer­i­can Gam­ing As­so­ci­a­tion.

“The job of a na­tional chair­man is to give speeches. That’s what the na­tional party pays him for. We didn’t have a rule book back then, but be­ing na­tional chair­man was and is a full-time job,” Mr. Fahrenkopf said.

For­mer Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Jim Ni­chol­son, who served in that po­si­tion from 1997 to 2000 and was Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s Vet­er­ans Af­fairs sec­re­tary from 2005 to 2007, said the job “de­mands so much of your time that you can work 24/7 and not get ev­ery­thing done, so tak­ing time out to speak for the ben­e­fit of one’s own bank ac­count is not ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Mr. Steele’s of­fice dis­missed the crit­i­cism, say­ing the chair­man was a highly sought-af­ter speaker be­fore be­ing elected to lead the RNC, he’s fol­low­ing all RNC rules, and is com­mit­ted full time to grow­ing the Repub­li­can Party.

“This is silly. Many Demo­crat and Repub­li­can na­tional chair­men have reg­u­larly re­ceived out­side in­come,” said RNC spokes­woman Gail Gitcho.

“Michael Steele has been giv­ing in­spi­ra­tional speeches based on his per­sonal story long be­fore he was elected RNC chair­man and will long af­ter,” Ms. Gitcho said.

Sev­eral of Mr. Steele’s pre­de­ces­sors, in­clud­ing Mis­sis­sippi Gov. Ha­ley Bar­bour, who now heads the Repub­li­can Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion, and for­mer Mon­tana Gov. Marc Raci­cot, have been crit­i­cized for main­tain­ing fi­nan­cial ties with law firms that had lob­by­ing di­vi­sions while they were at the helm of the party.

The RNC em­ployee rule book says that non-party busi­ness deal­ings must be cleared by the party’s le­gal of­fice.

“Re­quests to pur­sue any out­side busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties or con­tinue pre-RNC em­ploy­ment busi­ness con­nec­tions must be sub­mit­ted to the Chief Coun­sel for re­view. Af­ter con­sul­ta­tion with the Chief Coun­sel, the Chair­man or Chief of Staff as ap­pro­pri­ate will act upon such re­quests based upon the RNC con­flicts-of-in­ter­est pol­icy,” the hand­book says.

RNC Gen­eral Coun­sel Reince Priebus told The Wash­ing­ton Times that he knew Mr. Steele has been mak­ing paid speeches across the coun­try. “Michael Steele is not in vi­o­la­tion of the rules of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee,” said Mr. Priebus, who is also Wis­con­sin GOP chair­man.

Asked whether Mr. Steele had sought his of­fice’s ad­vice or per­mis­sion in con­nec­tion with mak­ing paid speeches for his per­sonal ben­e­fit, Mr. Priebus ini­tially de­clined to re­spond and then said, “I can’t com­ment.”

Since de­feat­ing four other candidates in a bruis­ing six-bal­lot bat­tle in Jan­uary, Mr. Steele has re­peat­edly fended off ques­tions about his lead­er­ship and his stew­ard­ship over party money from var­i­ous fac­tions in the party.

In May, Mr. Steele agreed to re­vive checks and bal­ances in con­nec­tion with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of RNC con­tracts, fees for le­gal work and other ex­pen­di­tures. They had not been re­newed af­ter the 2008 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nat­ing con­test.

Mr. Steele also has taken some heat from con­ser­va­tives in the party for back­ing a lib­eral-lean­ing can­di­date in a spe­cial House race in New York that saw the rise of “tea party” in­flu­ence and the loss of a long­time GOP seat, but Repub­li­can candidates did cap­ture the night’s two big­gest prizes: gov­er­nor­ships in New Jer­sey and Vir­ginia.

For crit­ics of Mr. Steele’s paid­speak­ing ar­range­ment, the is­sue is not about writ­ten rules or their in­ter­pre­ta­tion; it’s about the ap­pear­ance of im­pro­pri­ety.

“It just doesn’t look right us­ing RNC re­sources and trad- ing on the ti­tle of chair­man to make out­side money,” said Rich Bond, an­other for­mer Repub­li­can na­tional chair­man.

“When I be­came chair­man, I was sur­prised some or­ga­ni­za­tions paid hono­raria,” Mr. Bond said. “There were no writ­ten rules about tak­ing money back then. Still, I de­cided ac­cept­ing the money would get me in trou­ble.”

Mr. Bond’s so­lu­tion was to give the speak­ing fees to char­ity. “I ar­ranged with the Mother Hale Foun­da­tion [for ba­bies born to women ad­dicted to crack co­caine] to con­trib­ute all of the hono­raria I re­ceived; I think, a to­tal of $10,000.”

A spokesman for the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee said its of­fi­cials are un­aware of any Demo­cratic na­tional chair­man ever hav­ing made speeches or out­side ap­pear­ances for per­sonal gain.

“So far as we know, that hasn’t been the case with any De­moc- ratic na­tional chair­man,” said DNC na­tional press sec­re­tary Hari Se­vu­gan.

It’s un­clear how many out­side speeches Mr. Steele has given, though it po­ten­tially adds up to hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars.

But on the speak­ing cir­cuit,

“Holy mack­erel, I never head of a chair­man of ei­ther party ever tak­ing money for speeches,” said Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., RNC chair­man un­der Pres­i­dent Rea­gan and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Amer­i­can Gam­ing As­so­ci­a­tion. “The job of a na­tional chair­man is to give speeches. That’s what the na­tional party pays him for.”

he’s not a top-dol­lar draw.

For­mer Soviet leader Mikhail Gor­bachev gets $125,000 per speech, plus first-class ex­penses for him­self and eight re­tain­ers who travel with him, APB’s Mr. San­dler said.

APB lists Mr. Steele’s “fee range” as $10,001 to $20,000.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cash­ing in on the job: Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Michael S. Steele pre­pares to speak at Phi­lan­der Smith Col­lege in Lit­tle Rock, Ark., on Sept. 21. His spokes­woman in­sists that such paid speeches are within RNC rules and that crit­i­cism of them is “silly.”

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