The Washington Times today has an exposé revealing that RNC chairman Michael Steele has been “using his title to market himself for paid appearances nationwide, personally profiting from speeches with fees of up to $20,000.” In addition to his $223,500 a year income from the party, Steele is contracted by at least four outside agencies to appear “at colleges, trade associations and other groups.” Through the speaker agencies, Steele is marketed as a “Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland.”
The article notes that this “unusual practice” has come under criticism from former RNC chairmen:
– “Holy mackerel, I never heard of a chairman of either party ever taking money for speeches,” said former RNC chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr.
— 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,” noted former RNC chairman Jim Nicholson.
— “It just doesn’t look right using RNC resources and trading on the title of chairman to make outside money,” said former RNC chairman Rich Bond. Bond also noted that when he received honoraria, he donated the money to charity to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
But this morning on CSPAN, former RNC chairman Jim Gilmore stepped up to defend Steele’s outside income. Gilmore said the speakers fees were appropriate as long as they are disclosed, and that its “not uncommon for people to have some outside employment as well as being paid as national chairman”:
GILMORE: You know Greta, I think it’s worth writing about so the public can make their own decisions. I’m a former elected prosecutor, former elected Attorney General of Virginia, former Governor of Virginia. I was the former chairman of the RNC, among other types of posts, and I think as long as it doesn’t conflict with the work that he’s doing as national chairman, then as long as the committee is aware of his activities. I think it’s really up to the committee to make those decisions. But it’s not uncommon for people to have some outside employment as well as being paid as as national chairman.
The Times article reported that Steele was paid by one of his private speakers bureaus to appear in September at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. As CNN noted, Steele used the speech as an opportunity to praise the community advocacy group ACORN. Steele said he “respects” ACORN for its “history of working the community and helping the poor.”