- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

The Republican National Committee’s treasurer escalated the fight over control of hundreds of millions of campaign dollars by challenging Chairman Michael S. Steele and his supporters to back a claim that financial improprieties took place under Mr. Steele’s predecessor, Mike Duncan.

“If [the improprieties] exist, I would certainly like to be made aware of them in order to determine their significance and if amendments to Federal Election Commission reports should be made,” RNC Treasurer Randy Pullen, who is also chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, wrote Thursday in an e-mail to the full 168-member national committee.

The fight centers on an effort to limit Mr. Steele’s financial powers, saying the committee’s long-standing “good governance” principles need to make a comeback. Steele supporters are pushing back against that effort by saying similar practices happened under the administration of Mr. Duncan.

Mr. Pullen’s specific complaint was prompted by claims from Mr. Steele and from Steele loyalist and Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus that during “the transition process we uncovered instances and issues from the past cycle that would raise an eyebrow or two.”

Mr. Priebus appeared to suggest that any possible misdeeds by Mr. Duncan should be swept under the rug for the sake of the party’s reputation.

“My thought is that we should try to keep some of these things private, out of public view and at least not set forth in a full on public debate,” Mr. Priebus wrote RNC members.

In his e-mail, Mr. Priebus, who clears his statements with Mr. Steele and his personal staff and who headed Mr. Steele’s transition team, accused Mr. Pullen, General Counsel Blake Hall, former General Counsel David Norcross, former RNC Treasurer Alec Poitevint, and former budget Director Ron Kaftan of “recrimination and backbiting” that “serves none of our interests.”

Those five men sponsored a “good governance” resolution to strip Mr. Steele of his unchecked authority to award contracts without the benefit of competitive bidding and his similar power to spend donor’s money on legal fees, hotels and other services.

Attempts on Thursday to reach Mr. Duncan, who lost his re-election bid to Mr. Steele on Jan. 30, were unsuccessful.

Going further in casting aspersions on Mr. Duncan, though avoiding his name, Mr. Steele himself sent a missive to the five men saying that “during the transition our Transition Team uncovered many examples from the previous two years where there was in fact no competitive bidding and even some clear attempts to deceive the RNC members on the financial picture for 2009.”

Under federal law, possible jail terms await RNC officials who purposely mislead federal authorities and donors about how RNC donations are spent.

But in his Thursday memo to members, Mr. Pullen said he considered the Priebus note an unacceptable attack that demands an apology.

The Arizona party chief and RNC treasurer wrote that, if “it were just me, an elected officer of the RNC, I would be disappointed in his choice of words; however, he has included four of the longest serving, honorable members of the RNC who have been there through the good times and bad times for our party. They are all above reproach and would only cosponsor a resolution on good governance if they believed it was in the best interest of the RNC.”

Mr. Pullen said that Mr. Priebus “owes these gentlemen a public apology.”