December 19, 2011; Source: PoliticoTrade associations and political think tanks, classified variously as 501(c)(6), (c)(4), and (c)(3) tax-exempt entities, sometimes pay their chief executives pretty well. One might say that in terms of executive compensation, they are the 1 percent of nonprofit executive directors, since the vast majority work for much less, trying to cobble together resources to pay staff and themselves.

Twenty trade group execs listed by Politico pulled in a total compensation of $1 million or more, including the following (although some have left these positions and been replaced since Politico did its research):

Billy Tauzin, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, $11.6 million

Jack Gerard, American Petroleum Institute, $6.4 million

Tom Donohue, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $4.8 million

Tom Kuhn, Edison Electric Institute, $4 million

Tim Ryan, Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, $3 million

Kye McSlarrow, National Cable & Telecommunications Association, $2.8 million

Dawn Sweeney, National Restaurant Association, $2.6 million

Edward Yingling, American Bankers Association, $2.3 million

Cal Dooley, American Chemistry Council, $2.3 million

Dale Stinton, National Association of Realtors, $1.9 million

Dave McCurdy, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, $1.9 million

A headhunter at the McCormick Group, one Ivan Adler, described the CEO salaries of trade associations as “a parallel universe to the rest of the country” where “a recession here [in Washington, D.C.] doesn’t affect things as much as it does in the real world.” It doesn’t hurt to have been a former member of Congress, as in the case of Cal Dolley and Dave McCurdy, both refugees from the House of Representatives.

Politico then offers some more reasonably paid—compared to the above list—association or advocacy organization CEOs. Some are controversial, certainly, but even with quite comfortable compensation packages they are nothing like the industry association nonprofits: former NPR exec Vivian Schiller, with a compensation of $506,300; the Sierra Club’s Carl Pop, with $235,800; Fred Beinecke of the Natural Resources Defense Council, earning $432,700; Gene Karpinski of the League of Conservation Voters, at $207,200; Fred Krupp at the Environmental Defense Fund, taking in $423,400; the head of NARAL Pro-Choice America Nancy Keenan, with compensation at $265,000; and AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka, at $344,000, among others.

As Politico noted about the trade associations, “it’s good work if you can get it.”—Rick Cohen