White House Pay: Not by the Word

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama with, from left, David Holmes, Director for Afghanistan; Chief of Staff Jack Lew; Senior Advisor David Plouffe; and Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications aboard Marine One during a flight from Joint Base Andrews, Md., to the White House.

Time for a pay raise?

Mark Kornblau, who served as Senator John Edwards’ press secretary in 2008 and is currently Ambassador Susan Rice’s spokesman at the United Nations, will take a new job in JP Morgan Chase’s communications shop at the end of the month.

The company isn’t required to publicize its compensation packages, but had John Edwards won in 2008 and taken Kornblau with him to the White House, he would have hit a salary ceiling at $172,200. It’s a safe assumption that he’ll be making more on Wall Street.

This year, 20 White House officials are topped out at $172,200, according to the annual White House salary report to Congress, which the administration released this year on the Friday night before the Fourth of July Weekend.

But some of those big earners in the White House are making a fraction of their private sector salaries.

David Plouffe, the president’s senior adviser, made $2.1 million from his own firm, book sales (“The Audacity to Win”) and giving speeches around the world, before joining the White House in early 2011.

Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, collected $3.9 million as a partner at the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, in the year before going to serve the president.

And White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew was paid $1.1 million by Citigroup in 2008 for running its alternative investment group.

Still, there’s room for salary growth at the White House. The big winner this year is David Agnew, who won a 63 percent salary increase when he was promoted to deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and director of intergovernmental affairs for Obama, at $153,300. Previously, as deputy directory, he made $93,840.

On the communications team, the big winner was Amy Brundage, whose title went from assistant press secretary to special assistant to the president and deputy press secretary. Her salary jumped from $84,250 to $103,000. That’s a 27 percent raise for Brundage, who handles most of the press on economic issues.

Then there’s Cody Keenan, the president’s go-to speech-writer for sporting events. When championship teams visit the White House for some presidential ribbing and congratulations from the First Fan, chances are that Keenan has written the initial draft. (He and the president are both Chicago Bears die-hards and speak each others’ sports language.)

Keenan, who also helped pen the president’s speech to eulogize those killed in the Tucson shooting that wounded then-Representative Gabriel Giffords, saw a 33 percent bump in pay, from $75,000 $100,000.

But he’s not paid by the word.

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