Paul Irwin was with HSUS from 1976 to 2004, rising to be its chief executive during the final eight years. He was also president of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (headquartered in London, England), EarthVoice, the Center for Respect of Life and the Environment, the International Center for Earth Concerns, and Humane Society International. Irwin is an ordained United Methodist minister and was president of the American Bible Society from 2005 to 2008.
Irwin is one of a number of HSUS employees who came under fire for living a lavish lifestyle at donors’ expense. His salary reached over $300,000 a year. The group also paid him $85,000 for renovations to a beachfront Maine cabin; the organization held the property in trust, but Irwin and his family used it exclusively for vacations. Irwin collected $15,000 in executor’s fees from a board member’s estate without notifying the board in advance, as required by the HSUS “code of ethics.”
In 1996, the Humane Society of Canada (which Irwin founded and which was regarded as an affiliate of HSUS) filed a lawsuit asserting that Irwin and other HSUS officials transferred $1 million from the Canadian group's bank account to HSUS without authorization, took its donor list, and overcharged for administrative costs. HSUS claimed it was to pay for the fundraising of its Canadian counterpart, but didn't provide the group with the required documentation to back up the expenses. In January 1997 a Canadian judge ordered HSUS to return the money, writing: "I cannot imagine a more glaring conflict of interest or a more egregious breach of fiduciary duty. It demonstrates an overweening arrogance of a type seldom seen."
The New York Times reported in 2008 that under Irwin’s watch HSUS paid $881,000 to Exciting New Technologies (ENT), a venture run by an entrepreneur with business ties to the online pornography industry. The firm specialized in customized e-commerce fundraising systems. (Irwin’s son was hired at ENT in 2003.) Irwin hired ENT again later while head of the American Bible Society, leading to his suspension as president when the revelations surfaced in the media.