How much are Clinton, Obama, McCain, and Romney paying their staffers?

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Feb. 7 2008 6:57 PM

How Much Do Campaign Staffers Make?

A lot more than they used to …

Hillary Clinton talks with a campaign staffer. Click image to expand.
Hillary Clinton talks with a campaign staffer 

Some of Hillary Clinton's top aides said Wednesday that they will forgo pay for February to help conserve cash. In January, about a dozen of Rudy Giuliani's senior staffers also volunteered to go unpaid for the month as the campaign headed toward critical primaries. And last summer, as John McCain ran low on funds, the senator had to let go dozens of workers and aides. So, how much do campaign staffers make?

More than they did four years ago. The campaigns have raised record amounts of money during this election cycle—$583 million in 2007 alone, compared with a total of $880 million for the entire '04 campaign and $529 million for the '00 contest. Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton's campaign manager, volunteered her services for February, but she was paid $41,000 for the last quarter of 2007, according to campaign reports—giving her an annual salary of $164,000. (This is about 10 percent more than Kerry's top staffers were getting in 2004.) McCain's chief of staff, Mark Salter, had a $200,000 salary from the campaign at one point. Beth Meyers, Romney's campaign manager, had been paid $100,000 annually as of last year, while the candidate's finance director, Spencer Zwick, was getting $25,000 a month. Full-time speechwriters make $50,000 to $90,000, though campaigns may bring in outside help at $15,000 per speech.

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The exact salary for a given staffer will depend on what he does and for whose campaign—and, in some cases, whether the candidate ends up winning the nomination. According to an analysis published by Bloomberg, Barack Obama spent the most on payroll last year ($20.3 million), followed by John McCain ($15.4 million) and Clinton (just under $15 million). Among active candidates, Ron Paul devoted the smallest portion of his funds to salaries and benefits—8 percent, or $1.5 million.

Top aides include both full-time employees and consultants; those who work on day-to-day operations—managing a candidate's public appearances, for example, or her door-to-door outreach—tend to be salaried staffers with health benefits. Freelancers from outside firms are hired for their expertise in a certain area; they often receive one fee for work during the primaries and a higher one for the general election.

Media consultants are among the highest-paid people in campaigns. But it's hard to know just how much money they take home, and how much of their fees are advertising expenses.  (Historically, Democratic consultants have charged both a flat fee and a commission of 6 percent to 7 percent of advertising buys, while Republicans typically forgo the commission.) For the last quarter of 2007, Mitt Romney's campaign wrote a $17 million check to Midnight Ride Media, a group that includes several of his media consultants. At the same time, Clinton paid $1.2 million to her consultant Mandy Grunwald's firm, while Barack Obama paid about $338,000 to AKP Message & Media, the firm of his campaign manager, David Plouffe, and media consultant, David Axelrod. 

Pollsters are also handsomely rewarded for their work. Obama paid about $364,000 in the last quarter of the year to Joel Benenson's company, while Clinton paid $2.3 million to the firm of Mark Penn, her pollster and top strategist.

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