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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.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue pulled in $5.5 million in 2012, making him one of the top-paid association executives in the nation that year. For the entire election cycle, Donohue made $10.4 million, according to the chamber’s 990s from 2011 and 2012. Said chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes: “Tom Donohue leads the largest, most active and most influential trade organization in the world and our board compensates him accordingly.”

Rebecca Burkett, a little-known campaign consultant from Georgia, made more running Winning Our Future, the super PAC that backed losing GOP presidential nominee and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, than many of the nation’s leading labor union presidents make in a year. Burkett earned more than $500,000 during her tenure as the Gingrich super PAC’s chief organizer, according to Political MoneyLine. By comparison, Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which spent $23 million on the election, made $288,303 during the 2012 calendar year.

Even the recent tax disclosures leave plenty of blanks. Take Priorities USA Action, the super PAC that backed President Barack Obama, and its tax-exempt affiliate, Priorities USA. Together, the two groups spent $65.2 million in the 2012 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But it’s not clear how much senior Democratic strategist Bill Burton made running the operation. Priorities USA, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, reports paying Burton $95,736. The super PAC reports $239,219 in “payroll” expenditures to Burton. That brings his total to as much as $334,955. But because of reporting anomalies between the FEC and the IRS, that total may not tell the whole story. Burton did not respond to requests for comment.

The top GOP super PAC backing Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future, listed no salary lines or payroll recipients by name on its FEC public disclosures. This drew fire from watchdogs who complained that the super PAC shared vendors and even consultants with Romney, violating rules that bar coordination between candidates and the outside groups that back them.

At the center of those complaints was GOP fundraiser Steve Roche, who ran a fundraising firm called Podium Capital Group. As the super PAC’s top vendor, that firm was paid $7.3 million by Restore Our Future, according to the CRP. But how much of a cut went to Roche — whether 2 percent or 12 percent, both within industry standards — remains unanswered. Roche did not return a message seeking comment.

Moreover, Restore Our Future had no single executive in charge. It was run by a trio of consultants that included GOP election lawyer Charles Spies, its treasurer. His firm, Clark Hill, took in $746,425 from Restore Our Future, data from the CRP show. But Spies said that amount was paid to the firm as a whole, not to him individually.

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