Leading two politically focused nonprofits has generated big money for former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota — with paydays better than when he served in Congress’ upper chamber.
Coleman collected more than $570,000 during a nearly three-year tenure at the helm of the American Action Network and the American Action Forum, for an average of about $190,000 annually, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of federal filings.
That includes a combined salary of more than $116,000 in 2011, according to the groups' most recent annual reports — though Coleman was only a paid, full-time employee of the organizations for a portion of that year.
According to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service, Coleman worked a combined 40 hours a week for the two conservative nonprofits during 2009 and 2010 — their first two years of existence, when he served as both groups’ chief executive officer.
He dialed back his time and responsibilities during the third year after taking a job at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm and lobbying shop Hogan Lovells, where his clients this year include Airbus Americas Inc. and Hong Kong-based investment firm Primus Holdings Ltd.
In their annual reports filed with the IRS, the two conservative nonprofits state that compensation levels are determined by reviewing compensation “for similar work at peer institutions” and approved by the organizations’ presidents.
Once Coleman stepped down from the chief executive officer posts, he was “no longer compensated by either organization,” Dan Conston, communications director for the two groups, told the Center for Public Integrity.
Coleman continues to serve as the chairman of the board of the American Action Network and sits on the board of the American Action Forum.
When Coleman was first sworn into the U.S. Senate in 2003, senators received an annual salary of $154,700 — a figure that increased to $169,300 during Coleman’s final year in office.
Many other former lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, seek private-sector employment after serving in Congress.
Working in the private sector can be “pretty alluring,” said Viveca Novak, editorial and communications director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
“There is serious money to be made for a former member,” Novak continued, adding that Coleman’s efforts at Hogan Lovells are likely even more lucrative than his nonprofit work.
Coleman, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment, lost a highly contested race to Democrat Al Franken in 2008. An extended recount battle after Election Day went all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which rejected Coleman’s final appeal of the result on June 30, 2009.
In July, Franken was sworn into the Senate, and Coleman helped launch both the American Action Forum, a policy institute organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code, and the American Action Network, an “action tank” organized under Section 501(c)(4).
Ahead of the 2010 midterms, the American Action Network spent millions of dollars on ads that criticized Democratic candidates, earning the ire of campaign finance watchdogs that alleged the nonprofit spent too significant a portion of its resources influencing elections.
The group, which has denied the allegations, ranked as one of the most politically active nonprofits during both the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Coleman is also the chairman of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC that seeks to expand the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. That group made news last year for receiving a $2.5 million contribution from Chevron Corp., shareholders of which this week rejected an effort to stop the company from making political donations.