A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Michelle Obama’s Salary


Q: Did Michelle Obama make $317,000 a year while working part-time at the University of Chicago Medical Center?

A: This allegation in a chain e-mail is wrong: Obama’s reported income was $103,633 in 2007, the year she reduced her work schedule to part time.

FULL QUESTION

Is there any truth to this story?

WHERE ARE OUR "WATERGATE" REPORTERS NOW?????

NEW YORK POST ARTICLE

January 24, 2009

Way after we elected this man as the 42nd President of the United States

Despite the fact it was buried on page 17, at least some element of the news media isn’t completely covering for the Obamas.

Date: Thursday, February 12, 2009, 9:25 am

At the top right hand corner of Page 17 of the New York Post of January 24th, 2009, was a short column entitled "Replacing Michelle" in the National Review "The Week" column. I found this interesting, so here it is, word for word, as it appeared:

[EET ]

Some employees are simply irreplaceable. Take Michelle Obama: The University of Chicago Medical center hired her in 2002 to run "programs for community relations, neighborhood outreach, volunteer recruitment, staff diversity and minority contracting".

In 2005 the hospital raised her salary from $120,000 to $317,000 – nearly twice what her husband made as a Senator.

Oh did we mention that her husband had just become a US Senator? He sure had. Requested a $1 million earmark for the UC Medical Center, in fact. Way to network Michelle!

But now that Mrs. Obama has resigned, the hospital says her position will remain unfilled. How can that be, if the work she did was vital enough to be worth $317,000?

We can think of only one explanation: Senator Roland Burris’s wife wasn’t interested.

Let me add that Michelle’s position was a half time, 20 hour a week job. And to think they were critical of Blagoyovich’s [sic] wife for taking $100,000 in fuzzy real estate commission.

My thoughts: How did this bit of quid pro quo corruption escape the sharp reporters that dug through Sarah Palin’s garbage and kindergarten files? Unbelievable![/EET]

FULL ANSWER

The anonymous author of this chain e-mail expands upon an opinion piece from the conservative National Review and gets the facts wrong in the process.

On Jan. 9, 2009, the University of Chicago Medical Center officially announced that Michelle Obama had resigned from her post as vice president for community and external affairs to join her husband, then-President-elect Barack Obama, in the White House as the new first lady of the United States.

Michelle Obama had been promoted in 2005 to vice president for community and external affairs after three years as the executive director for community affairs. It’s true, as the e-mail (and National Review column) says, that she received a sizable pay raise that year. She went from earning $121,910 in 2004 as an executive director at the hospital to making $316,962 in 2005 as a vice president, according to tax returns filed by the Obamas for those years. But the suggestion made by the email’s author – and not made by the National Review – that she was being paid more than $300,000 for a "20 hour a week job" is not true.

University of Chicago Medical Center spokesman John Easton said Mrs. Obama didn’t reduce her work schedule from full time to part time until 2007 when it became clear that her husband would run for president. "As she reduced her hours, beginning early in 2007, her salary decreased proportionately," Easton told us in an e-mail. "She switched to half time shortly before her husband formally announced his campaign, then to 20% later that year and to 0% in 2008."

In fact, Mrs. Obama’s income in 2006, a year after her promotion, had decreased to $273,618. And for 2007 (the year she actually started working part-time), her income was $103,633, according to the couple’s tax return for that year. She took an "unpaid leave of absence to work on her husband’s presidential campaign" in 2008, but still received $62,709 from the hospital. However, Easton noted that her final reported salary "consists of accumulated but unused vacation time plus the final payout from a supplemental executive retirement plan."

Easton said the nearly $317,000 figure is "misleading" anyway because it includes more than just her salary. He said the figure "also includes a performance bonus, a one-time signing bonus (she had other, competing offers at the time), and a one-time mandatory payout from a terminated retirement plan." This is reflected in the fact that her 2006 earnings were less than in 2005.

The first lady, a graduate of both Princeton University and Harvard Law School, was quite accomplished before she joined the University of Chicago in 1996 and ultimately the medical center in 2002. Her prior work experience included stints as an associate with the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin LLP, assistant commissioner of planning and development in Chicago’s City Hall and executive director of the Chicago chapter of Public Allies.

Additional Speculation

A significant portion of the text in this chain e-mail is a reproduction of part of a column that appeared in the Feb. 9 issue of National Review; the New York Post also ran part of the magazine’s "The Week" piece on Jan. 24. (The portion of the column reprinted in this e-mail ends with the comment about Roland Burris’ wife.) It’s worth noting that the column makes some implications about Michelle Obama’s former job that are more speculation than fact.

For one, the column suggests that Barack Obama’s election to the U.S. Senate in 2004 had a role in his wife’s promotion and pay increase in 2005. We can’t say what the hospital’s motivation was for promoting her. But Michael Riordan, who served as the medical center’s president at the time, told the Chicago Tribune that it had nothing to do with her husband. "She was hired before Barack was Barack,” Riordan told the newspaper. "She is worth her weight in gold, and she is just terrific." The Tribune reported that Riordan "had planned early on for the position [of executive director of community affairs] to evolve into a vice president’s post as a way of showing the organization’s commitment to community outreach." Riordan said: "I knew where I wanted to go with this position. … I wanted to identify someone to grow into it."  And Easton said at the time that her increased salary was in line with those of other vice presidents at the medical center, who were earning between $291,000 and $362,000, according to the newspaper.

Second, the column implies that her "networking" was what caused her then-senator husband to request a "$1 million earmark for the UC Medical Center" back in 2006. But that’s unsubstantiated also. He did request the funds for the "construction of a new hospital pavilion" at the University of Chicago, but both Obama and hospital officials denied that the request was influenced by his wife’s position. And during the campaign, Obama’s aides were quick to point out that the request was one of many projects that the former senator made in 2005 and 2006 that were killed by Congress.

Lastly, the column questioned the hospital’s decision not to fill the position vacated by the first lady, asking: "How can that be, if the work she did was vital enough to be worth $317,000?" It’s true that after her departure, the hospital did not fill the position of vice president for community and external affairs. But the column doesn’t mention that she had reduced her work schedule to part time well before she left and wasn’t making that much money when she officially resigned. Easton told us that "the responsibilities related to that position have been absorbed by those in other roles." Dr. James Madara, CEO of the Medical Center, announced that the Office of Community and External Affairs would be "reorganized" under Dr. Eric Whitaker, executive vice president for strategic affiliations, according to a hospital press release.

– D’Angelo Gore

Sources

Barack and Michelle Obama Tax Returns for 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008.

Press Release. "Michelle Obama resigns position at University of Chicago Medical Center". University of Chicago Medical Center, 9 Jan. 2009.

Press Release. "Michelle Obama appointed vice president for community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals." University of Chicago Medical Center, 9 May 2005.

Donmoyer, Ryan J. "Obamas Earned $4.2 Million in 2007, Tax Returns Show." Bloomberg.com, 16 April 2008.

Dorning, Mike, Jaspen, Bruce and Mendell, David. "Employer: Michelle Obama’s raise well-earned." chicagotribune.com, 27 Sept. 2006.

Drew, Christopher, and Becker, Jo. "Obama Lists His Earmarks, Asking Clinton For Hers." The New York Times, 14 March 2008.

"The Week." National Review, 9 Feb. 2009.

"Replacing Michelle." New York Post, 24 Jan. 2009.