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EXCLUSIVE: RNC’s Steele associates’ pay spurs questions
When Michael S. Steele took over as chairman of the Republican National Committee earlier this year, he brought along longtime personal assistant Belinda Cook and gave her a salary nearly three times what her predecessor made.
Mrs. Cook’s son, Lee, also landed an RNC job.
Mr. Steele hired another family friend, Angela Sailor, to be the party’s outreach director at a salary of $180,000, more than double her predecessor’s compensation, though new responsibilities have been added to the job, according to a high-ranking RNC official and Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings.
Mr. Steele’s early record and personnel decisions figure to be hot topics at a special meeting of Republican state party chairmen Tuesday and Wednesday at National Harbor in Washington’s Maryland suburbs. His hiring of friends and the salaries he is paying them already helped to instigate a struggle over who controls the party’s purse strings, one that forced the new party chairman to relinquish some control to elected RNC members.
“These salaries we hear about are way out of line for what staff should be paid for working for a political party, which most of us think of as a cause,” said Hawaii Republican Party Chairman Willis Lee. “And if certain staff at the national committee are making that much, then the public understandably might think they are examples of cronyism.”
RNC Communications Director Trevor Francis declined to address specifically questions about the salaries of Mrs. Cook and Ms. Sailor and the reasons for the increases.
“Salaries aren’t secret, just something that we’re not going to talk about outside of our [Federal Election Commission] filings,” Mr. Francis said.
Mr. Steele could face other headaches at the special meeting as well, including a vote on a resolution he has publicly opposed: to ask the Democratic Party to rename itself “the Democrat Socialist Party.” Two other less contentious resolutions - praising Republican lawmakers for opposing pet federal projects, government bailouts and heavy federal spending - also will be voted on.
But many complaints will focus on staff compensation. Some party officials have said that the salaries appear generous compared with those paid for similar positions under previous RNC head Robert M. “Mike” Duncan.
“When we are talking about paying someone three times what his predecessor made, it would be wise to make sure all 168 members of the national committee know who these people being hired are and what their qualifications are for being paid that much,” Texas RNC member Cathie Adams said.
According to take-home-pay figures that the RNC filed with the FEC for March of this year, Mrs. Cook, Mr. Steele’s personal assistant, earned $7,134.66 for the month, after withholding for federal and state taxes, which would amount to $85,615.92 over 12 months.
The person who held the same post under Mr. Duncan took home $2,436.74 monthly, or $29,240.88 over 12 months, FEC reports showed. The RNC official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to disclose the figures, said Mrs. Cooks salary before deductions is $125,000.
As for Lee Cook, he earned $3,251.77 in March, about $39,021.24 a year after taxes, according to the FEC.
The salary being paid to Ms. Sailor, a former White House aide, is $180,000 a year, according to the RNC official. That is $40,000 more than the $140,000 paid to Jan Larimer, the elected RNC co-chairman, the second-highest elective post in the party directly behind Mr. Steele, the official said.
About the Author
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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