STEELE’S SWEET RACKET…. Michael Steele was able to parlay a series of failures and fiascoes into becoming the clownish chairman of the Republican National Committee. After securing the gig, Steele was able to parlay his chairmanship into becoming a surprisingly well paid personality on the speaking circuit.

Michael S. Steele, Republican National Committee chairman, is using his title to market himself for paid appearances nationwide, personally profiting from speeches with fees of up to $20,000 at colleges, trade associations and other groups – an unusual practice criticized by a string of past party chairmen.

Mr. Steele, elected in January to the $223,500-a-year RNC post, is working with at least four outside agencies in Washington, New York, Boston and Nashville that book the speaking engagements. He charges between $8,000 and $20,000 for an address, plus first-class travel and lodging expenses.

The Republican National Committee has been awfully tolerant of Steele’s incompetence, mismanagement, and humiliating gaffes this year. But this is a revelation that may put Steele’s job in jeopardy.

Several former RNC chairmen said on the record that Steele’s lucrative little scheme is hard to defend. Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., RNC chairman under Reagan, said, “Holy mackerel, I never heard of a chairman of either party ever taking money for speeches…. The job of a national chairman is to give speeches. That’s what the national party pays him for.”

Jim Nicholson, RNC chairman under W. Bush, said the job “demands so much of your time that you can work 24/7 and not get everything done, so taking time out to speak for the benefit of one’s own bank account is not appropriate.”

Rich Bond, RNC chairman under Clinton, said, “It just doesn’t look right using RNC resources and trading on the title of chairman to make outside money.” Bond added that if he received honoraria after a public appearance, he donated it to charity.

For what it’s worth, the Democratic National Committee said it knows of no DNC chairs who’ve ever made speeches for personal gain the way Steele is doing now.

And what kind of personal gain are we talking about here? According to the Washington Times reported, “it potentially adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Stepping back, I suspect RNC members may be reluctant to switch chairmen less than a year from the midterm elections. It would be disruptive and embarrassing. On the other hand, is the party really prepared to keep an incompetent chairman who’s using his title to line his own pockets?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.