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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 implemention 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. Steeles paid-speaking 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 trading 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 Democratic 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, 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.