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Steele faces criticism for giving paid speeches

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, who fended off calls for his resignation earlier in the year after a string of controversial statements, could face renewed questions about his leadership following revelations he has continued to give paid speeches even as he serves as chairman of a party trying to recover from two straight electoral defeats.

The former Maryland lieutenant governor, who was elected chairman of the GOP in January, has given a dozen speeches to corporate boards and colleges. He has charged $8,000 per appearance while at the same time collecting a salary of $223,000 as the leader of the party. The chairman's paid speeches were first reported by the Washington Times.

Richard Bond, who was chairman of the party from 1992 to 1993, said he was "shocked" Steele had accepted the money and that he "didn't take a dime" from speaking fees during his tenure. A current member of the 168-member RNC, who did not want to blast Steele publicly, called the speeches a "bad idea."

Democrats joined in the criticism. Asked to respond to a comment Steele made to a reporter about Democrats "flipping the bird" to Americans by pushing health-care legislation through the Senate, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs quipped about the reporter in a press briefing, "How much did that interview cost him?"

Curt Anderson, a long-time adviser to Steele, said the party chairman has long worked as an "inspirational speaker" and continued to do after taking the helm of the RNC. Steele had made much of his income through speaking engagements and a law practice before taking over the RNC, Anderson said.

"When a state party calls or a coalition groups calls, or a candidate calls, none of those are paid speeches," Anderson said. He added, "The suggestion that he is less than a full-time chairman is crazy."

In an interview on C-SPAN that was circulated by Steele aides, former party chairman Jim Gilmore said, "It's not uncommon for people to have some outside employment as well as being paid as national chairman." Democrats said the party's current chairman, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, did not give paid speeches and said they did not think previous party leaders did either.

The dispute over the speeches is the latest controversy for Steele, who won a six-person race for party chairman earlier this year by casting himself as a figure who would help the party woo minorities and independents and become one of its best public spokesman. A series of controversial remarks early in his tenure drew sharp attacks from party figures such as talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who urged Steele to focus more on fund-raising and helping Republicans win gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey.

Buoyed by November victories in both of those races, Republicans are enthusiastic about the party's direction, but conservative Republicans, angered by the party's initial embrace of Dede Scozzafava over a more conservative candidate in a New York House race, are looking to pass a resolution that would bar Steele and the RNC from giving money to candidates without strong conservative records.

By Web Politics Editor  |  December 22, 2009; 1:57 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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Greed Greed and more greed. Lieberman, Nelson, Steele - is there no end?
Steele has nothing to say so that tells what kind of people go to hear him speak.
Lieberman is a snake - a very wealthy snake all gotten on the backs of us citizens.
Nelson - big holdout - greed - I hope he gets a conscience one day

Posted by: Tonisongbird34 | December 23, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: fozzy13mailbox-ler | December 23, 2009 4:46 AM | Report abuse

I can't believe Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton aren't out playing the race card!

Posted by: cschotta1 | December 22, 2009 10:29 PM | Report abuse

look, there are about half a dozen black think it is easy to find one?

i bet you'd want a lot more than 8k just to find one, much less get him to talk!

you try it, let's see how you do.

Posted by: californicationdude | December 22, 2009 8:35 PM | Report abuse

"Democrats said the party's current chairman, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, did not give paid speeches and said they did not think previous party leaders did either"

That's correct as Kaine had another paying gig at the time. I beleive it was Governor of VA. Liberals Suck!!

Posted by: Cobra2 | December 22, 2009 8:24 PM | Report abuse

"Democrats said the party's current chairman, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, did not give paid speeches and said they did not think previous party leaders did either"

That's correct as Kaine had another paying gig at the time. I beleive it was Governor of VA. Liberals Suck!!

Posted by: Cobra2 | December 22, 2009 8:24 PM | Report abuse

The GOP leadership laughs all the way to the bank... The GOP rank & file deserve every bit of it.

Posted by: rcc_2000 | December 22, 2009 7:45 PM | Report abuse

This guy is so sleazy he was repudiated by his own state. Now the nation is getting to known him better. Too bad for him and the party he is helping to kill. But he is the perfect emblem for the Repugnant Party.

Posted by: 1observer | December 22, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who knows something about Michael Steele in Prince George's County would recognize this as one of many shenanigans he has pulled over the years on unsuspecting Republicans and a credulous media.

His claim that in previous years he earned his living from the practice of law and public speaking is another example of the many exaggerations and false claims he has made about his professional career. For a long time he was practically unemployed and couldn't even pay his mortgage. Back in 2002 when he was in the Maryland Republican ticket as LT. Governor, he was rescued by the Maryland GOP chaired by multimillionaire John Kane who gave Steele a grant (or perhaps contract or even charity money) so that he would not embarrassed the Ehrlich campaign in the event his townhouse were to be repossessed. I would not be surprised if the RNC is useing funds to buy and maintain his wardrobe a la Palin.

Just like the Salahis, in the coming years we will learn more about a yet-to-be-fully-disclosed trail of deception, irregularities and improprieties about Steele or "Steal" whichever the spelling of his surname may be more appropriate for his particular predicament.

When that happens, Republicans in an outburst of righteous indignation will declare that "after giving Steele every opportunity to succeed, we just cannot trust Black people." In the meantime, Steele will be laughing all the way to the Bank. Ho! Ho! Ho!

Posted by: GoodAmerican | December 22, 2009 6:20 PM | Report abuse

walden1. great post. describes most republicans to a tooth. my question who would pay to hear this guy speak? that has to be a little spooky.

Posted by: donaldtucker | December 22, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

The Republicians are engaged in a circular firing squad.
The Democrats are engaged in a circular firing squad.

ANTI INCUMBENT IN 2010 and beyond

Posted by: scon101 | December 22, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

I had to do a belly laugh when I read "HelloNewan1" ask, "Are the Republicans brain-dead?"

The astonishing fact is that the current Republican Party is in fact brain-dead in every respect.

They know that all their lies and fear tactics haven't worked but they stay in Lemming formation and wreck their holidays to put off a sure vote on Dec 24? What for?

To convince the already convinced 25% of the American voting population from shacks in the hills that they are heroically saving America from bad old meany old Government!

Meanwhile polls have consistently shown that 70-80% of Americans are in favor of Health Care Reform. But Republicans to a man and woman insist they don't want health reform because they WANT TO SAVE AMERICANS FROM THE EVIL OF HEALTH REFORM.

Speaking for the silent majority where people have to earn a living and segregate their trash, I'd say Congressional Republicans are less than brain dead. Yet they are telling everyone Democrats will pay for doing their will at the next election?

As for Michael Steele--hello Newman!--I think he should stay in his post for about 20 years. He's a good blackface of the current John McCain.

Posted by: walden1 | December 22, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Michael Steele is a running joke as the head of the RNC talk about being a "token" well he's busy taking all the "tokens" he can collect along the way, he is living proof the RNC is for sale, anyone got 8,000 maybe he can speak at my birthday party.....

Posted by: mikey30919 | December 22, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Michael Steele can guarantee that the Republicans can never take the high ground. What a jerk. Are the Republicans brain dead?

Posted by: HelloNewman1 | December 22, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

A former RNC employee went to The Washington Times with the story. Michael, dude, be careful who you piss off!

Posted by: nomorewholefoods | December 22, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

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