- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 22, 2009

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 heard of a chairman of either party ever taking money for speeches,” said Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., RNC chairman under President Reagan and CEO 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 around 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 if 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.”

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