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EXCLUSIVE: Steele may lose purse strings
Question of the Day
A battle over control of the party’s purse strings has erupted at the troubled Republican National Committee, with defenders of Chairman Michael S. Steele accusing dissident RNC members of trying to “embarrass and neuter” the party’s new leader.
Randy Pullen, the RNC’s elected treasurer, former RNC General Counsel David Norcross and three other former top RNC officers have presented Mr. Steele with a resolution, calling for a new set of checks and balances on the chairman’s power to dole out money.
The powers include new controls on awarding contracts and spending money on outside legal and other services.
Mr. Steele could not be reached, and a spokesman for the RNC chairman declined to comment on the move.
The resolution prompted a top Steele supporter to issue a scathing attack against Mr. Pullen and his allies after they had asked Mr. Steele to support the “good governance” resolution at a special meeting of the full national committee set for next month. The party spent about $300 million in last year’s elections.
“I urge you to reject this hostile attempt to embarrass and neuter the chairman of the RNC,” Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus wrote in an e-mail to the 168-member national committee.
Mr. Pullen and his allies need signatures from RNC members from 16 states to force the resolution to the floor for a vote by the full party committee at the May 20 special meeting.
The funding fight comes on the heels of another open challenge to Mr. Steele’s authority. Unhappy RNC conservatives secured the signatures to force the committee to convene next month’s special meeting to vote on a resolution labeling Democrats as “socialists,” despite the chairman’s reservations about the political wisdom of the move.
Critics said the “socialist” resolution battle was a sign of Mr. Steele’s rocky start as RNC chairman and his continuing struggle to assert control of the party’s message since his election in January.
Steele backers accuse Mr. Pullen and his allies of trying to undermine the chairman and strip him of his rightful authority to spend donors’ money as he sees fit.
“This resolution is an attempt to usurp the chairman’s authority in a completely unprecedented and historic manner,” Mr. Priebus wrote to the other party chairmen and national committee members from the 50 states and five U.S. territories.
Mr. Priebus, who heads the transition team for the newly elected chairman, also urged the resolution’s sponsors “to stop playing political games and begin thinking about what they can do to help our party move forward as we face the elections of 2009 and 2010.”
Mr. Pullen gave Mr. Steele the proposed resolution in a private meeting last week. The sponsors argued that it would help Mr. Pullen and other RNC officers identify and head off questionable financial actions and, thus, insulate party officials from any possible federal prosecution for financial misdeeds done under the aegis of the RNC.
Raising and spending huge sums of money - and doing it in accordance with complex federal campaign and disclosure laws - are central to the mission of the Democratic and Republican national party committees. The $300 million raised by the RNC went to Republican presidential, Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates and to state parties last year.
About the Author
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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