Staffers Strike Gold in Campaign Seasons

Some Earn Nearly as Much as Members

Posted March 11, 2011 at 5:55pm

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor may have campaigned on cutting spending, but a couple of his campaign staffers were among the highest-paid by campaigns, parties and political action committees during the 2010 election cycle. 

The Virginia Republican doled out almost as much to the person who runs his political action committee as he received through his own Congressional paychecks over the two-year period, according to a CQ MoneyLine study of campaign finance records. 

Karrie Harris Cohen was the highest-paid of all campaign employees during the last election cycle, receiving at least $364,000 as the executive director of Cantor’s Every Republican Is Crucial PAC. The salary is just under the $387,000 Cantor earned in Congressional salary during the same period.

Cohen is one of about 150 committee staffers who received more than $100,000 from 2009 to 2010 in expenditures listed as “payroll” or “salary,” according to electronically filed disbursements. The analysis of Federal Election Commission records did not include spending listed as “consulting” or money spent by Senatorial committees, which do not file electronically.

Cantor’s PAC did very well during the cycle, raising more than $4.4 million. These funds allowed him to distribute $1.8 million to more than 400 fellow GOP candidates and party committees. His re-election campaign was also among the top five in receipts among House candidates during the 2010 election cycle even though he did not face a tough race. His nearly $6 million in donations may account for why another staffer, Jennifer Jones, was paid at least $258,000 by Cantor for Congress.

Others with significant expenditures on salaries include the campaign and PAC of seven-term Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) which paid its manager, Renee Aschoff, more than $282,000, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which paid Executive Director Jonathan Vogel $257,000 during a campaign when it lost 63 seats.

During a two-year period, Political Action paid more than $282,000 to Executive Director Justin Ruben, which the organization said was “roughly the median for the non-profit sector based on a salary survey.”

Doug Gordon, a spokesman for the liberal group, objected to being measured against other PACs, campaigns or party committees, saying the comparison is “completely misleading.” 

“Among other things, Justin is one of the only ED’s in politics who spends both years of the two-year cycle working full time on a PAC payroll, without any other source of income,” Gordon wrote in an e-mail. “Most of the people you’d be comparing him to spend a fraction of that period being paid by political organizations.”

Someone looking to get paid well as a political operative might have done well to sign on with the Republican National Committee during the 2010 election cycle. The RNC had more staffers paid $100,000 or more during the two-year period than any other campaign, party or PAC.

Even though in the 2010 cycle the RNC took in less than half of its 2008 cycle receipts, the national party committee employed half of the top 10 staff salaries of the cycle.

These five RNC employees collectively received almost $1.2 million, led by then-Chairman Michael Steele. Over his tumultuous tenure at the helm, Steele received nearly $252,000 in pay. Other high-ranking RNC officials included Chief Digital Strategist Todd Herman with $239,000 and Deputy Finance Director-Direct Marketing Jim Rowley with $237,000. These totals only include salaries reported as campaign expenditures and may not include other forms of compensation.

Even two officials who left the organization before the end of the cycle made enough to round out the list of the 10 highest-paid staffers, including former RNC Chief of Staff Kenneth McKay IV, who received a total of more than $226,000 from November 2009 to April 2010. 

McKay resigned in April 2010 during the wake of an expenditures scandal when it was reported that nearly $2,000 in donor funds was spent on food and drinks at a bondage-themed club in West Hollywood, Calif. But some of the largest payroll disbursements to McKay came after he announced his departure from the RNC. The committee paid McKay almost $69,000 listed as “payroll” during the three weeks following his announced resignation on April 6, 2010.

Another former RNC staffer with large paychecks was Political Director Gentry Collins, who received at least $235,000 in paid salary. Collins resigned from the RNC by writing a scathing letter to Steele criticizing his leadership and saying he “allowed its major donor base to wither” during the 2010 cycle. Unlike McKay, Collins did not receive any large paychecks following his departure. 

Some of the pay listed in FEC records included bonuses. Almost 70 committees reported bonuses totaling $940,000 during the 2010 election cycle. The Denver 2008 Convention Host Committee — a committee with some leftover funds from the Democratic National Convention — was the biggest of these, doling out 50 bonuses totaling $103,000.