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Super PAC, Outside Spending Chiefs Make Big Bucks

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Donohue pulled in $5.5 million in 2012, making him one of the top-paid association executives in the nation that year.

Recently released tax forms shed light on the big salaries that an elite corps of political organizers earned during the 2012 elections — and those who made the most often boasted the fewest wins.

The new disclosures reveal fresh specifics about the six- and seven-figure salaries reaped by the political consultants, lawyers, fundraisers and media buyers who ran the top super PACs and politically active nonprofits in 2012. Such groups spent more than $1 billion in the first presidential contest since the Supreme Court deregulated independent campaign spending, shattering all previous records, and political professionals cashed in.

The size of their payday has, until recently, been undisclosed. Many super PACs that reported their spending to the Federal Election Commission omitted salary or payroll information, making it impossible to know just how much their top executives made.

But many such political action committees ran tax-exempt affiliates, which must file a Form 990 with the IRS. Though such forms withhold donor names, they do — for the most part — list the salaries of top executives. Dozens of big-spending political nonprofits, having requested filing extensions of up to six months, finally submitted their 990s late last year.

The new filings show that liberal groups, which in many cases outperformed their conservative counterparts, typically paid their executives less money. Liberal super PAC, nonprofit and labor salaries tend to land in the $250,000 to the (at most) $600,000 range, while many conservative organizers are pulling in at least a half-million, and several make into the millions over an election cycle. Findings from the new IRS 990 forms include:

Steven Law, the president of the American Crossroads super PAC and its tax-exempt affiliate, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, made $1.1 million during the election cycle. That includes $602,935 from Crossroads GPS in 2011 and $637,562 in 2012. Together the super PAC and the nonprofit spent more than $325 million on the election but had an underwhelming return on investment. According to the Sunlight Foundation, 1.3 percent of the super PAC’s money supported candidates who won and opposed candidates who lost in the general election. The Crossroads GPS return on investment was 14.4 percent.

Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY’s List, a political organization that supports female Democrats who back abortion rights, received a $263,194 salary for the entire 2012 cycle, according to Political MoneyLine data derived from FEC reports. The EMILY’s List super PAC Women Vote spent $7.7 million in the 2012 elections and had an 80 percent return on investment, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

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