SAN DIEGO | The Republican National Committee handed party Chairman Michael S. Steele a setback on Friday, voting at the party’s summer meeting here to put off until January a vote on the formation of an ethics committee that Mr. Steele wanted to create.
Members objectedbecause they said they didn’t understand the purpose or jurisdictional limits of the proposed committee and were able to force a delay.
Some committee members speculated that the new ethics panel was designed as a way to give cover to Mr. Steele for future actions he might take. Skeptics said an ethics board hand-picked by the chairman would provide little added value.
“My concern is [that] with members appointed by the chairman, as [Mr. Steele] wanted to do, you potentially don’t have the transparency he promised when running for chairman,” said North Dakota GOP chairman Gary Emineth.
The San Diego gathering is the first for the RNC under Mr. Steele’s leadership. The former Maryland lieutenant governor, the first black chairman of the Republican Party, received criticism in some quarters of the party for his shaky start in the top job, and this week’s meeting was considered by some to be a test of his leadership.
Some RNC members defended Mr. Steele’s proposal, saying the chairman deserved credit for understanding the concerns of members raised during floor debate at San Diego’s downtown Grand Hyatt ballroom.
“We all agree that the RNC has and should adhere to the highest ethical standards,” Indiana RNC member James Bopp Jr. said after the vote.
Mr. Bopp, a leader of the conservative caucus within the RNC, noted that so-called ethics committees have proven in the past to be subject to abuse and misuse, unless substantial safeguards are put in place.
He noted that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin had to defend herself against a slew of ethics complaints that ultimately proved to have no merit. Mrs. Palin cited the spate of what she called frivolous complaints as one motivation behind her decision to step down as governor late last month.
“The RNC put off consideration of establishing an ethics committee until the next meeting in order for the committee to develop guidelines for the scope of their activity,” Mr. Bopp said.
Mr. Steele already passed his first major test earlier this week, getting the powerful Rules Committee to elect his choice to head that panel over two more conservative rivals.
Jim Greer, chairman of the Florida Republican Party and a close ally of moderate Gov. Charlie Crist, won out in a vote over Bruce Ash of Arizona and Curly Haugland of North Dakota. The panel has one RNC member from each of the 50 states and six territories.