- The Washington Times - Friday, April 2, 2010

It’s been a great week for the Republican Party’s fall election prospects but a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week for the Republican National Committee and embattled Chairman Michael S. Steele.

A Gallup poll released Thursday showed voters giving Republicans a 47 percent to 44 percent edge over Democrats in “generic” balloting on which party is more popular, pointing to an opportunity for major gains in the midterm elections.

But the chairman is not doing nearly as well as his candidates, with fresh RNC-linked scandals and gaffes calling into question his effectiveness as party leader and fundraiser.

Social conservative leader Tony Perkins publicly called on “values voters” - a core GOP constituency - to withhold donations to Mr. Steele’s RNC, historically the financial clearinghouse and support for other party organizations such as the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s top political strategist, also tried to steer donors away from Mr. Steele’s organization, saying the RNC’s reimbursement to an employee for nearly $2,000 spent on entertaining prospective donors at a Los Angeles sex-themed nightclub cast doubts on the RNC’s management controls. Mr. Rove questioned whether the RNC understands its aim should be “to spend money on elections - and not on jets and bondage clubs.”

Mr. Steele has come in for harsh criticism for using donors’ money and party funds to hire expensive private jets and chauffeured limousines, while running up huge bills at posh hotels for Mr. Steele and the retinue of aides who travel with him.

Also this horrible week, MSNBC talk-show host and former Congressman Joe Scarborough of Florida went public with his frustrations about the party’s light financial reserves, saying, that “Michael Steele should resign or be fired.”

Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican, said on the same network Wednesday, “At this point, I’m not calling for his resignation, but I think there has been excessive spending, and I don’t think it’s defensible.”

But despite growing grumbling from top congressional Republicans and from some GOP governors, there appears to be little stomach among the RNC’s 168 members to oust their chairman seven months before the November elections.

With major donors shying away from the RNC, a new group known as American Crossroads - which many Republicans see as an alternative campaign finance committee - has sprung up. Its high-powered lineup includes Mr. Rove and former RNC Chairmen Ed Gillespie and Robert M. “Mike” Duncan.

On a very bad Thursday of a very bad week, RNC officials admitted to inadvertently listing a number for a phone-sex operation instead of a Republican Party office on a fundraising letter to prospective donors. Punching up the number yielded a phone-sex offer with a “nasty girl” for $2.99 a minute.

“A vendor mistakenly used 1-800 instead of a 202 [area code],” RNC Communications Director Doug Heye wrote in an e-mail response to The Washington Times.

The RNC has fired the employee, but former top RNC officials said privately that it was another example of what they called the managerial and administrative problems that have plagued the organization since Mr. Steele was elected chairman 14 months ago.

Bringing more bad publicity, the RNC confirmed that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, one of the party’s top attractions, has asked the RNC to take her name off a list of invited speakers at a New Orleans fundraiser next week. The Palin move came after news of the sex-club expense broke.

“We received an e-mail [Wednesday] night asking for Governor Palin’s name to be removed as her schedule would not allow her to attend,” Mr. Heye told The Times.

So far, none of the headliners such as Mrs. Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich or Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who have agreed to address the Southern Republican Leadership Conference next week, has accepted Mr. Steele’s invitation to address his fundraising events in a nearby hotel. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania has agreed to appear at Mr. Steele’s events.

Backers of American Crossroads say their aim is to raise as much as $60 million for GOP candidates and campaigns. That is the same amount of money GOP fundraising analysts said the RNC should have had in cash on hand by this time in preparation for the November elections.

“The RNC looks to hardworking families for financial support, but it has become increasingly clear to me that the RNC has become tone-deaf to the concerns and values of those families,” Mr. Perkins told The Times.

“I have told people not to give money to the RNC but directly to candidates that share their values - or, even better, to the Family Research Council,” he added. Mr. Perkins heads the FRC.

Mr. Perkins cited a lengthy list of grievances over the RNC’s performance under Mr. Steele, including the high internal expenses and the hiring of former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson to help the RNC’s legal efforts to overturn aspects of the McCain-Feingold law limiting campaign spending.

Mr. Olson is a longtime conservative legal activist, but has angered some by working for a drive in California to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.

In moves unprecedented in either party, three respected former RNC chairmen have told The Washington Times that Mr. Steele had no business using four speakers bureaus and making paid speaking engagements on the side while holding down the top RNC post.

These former RNC chairmen said it was also wrong for Mr. Steele to write a book while serving as RNC chairman and engage in an ongoing national tour, accompanied by RNC employees, to promote the book and keep the proceeds. They said accepting the role of paid party chairman means full-time commitment to the fundraising that the job demands and that it does not permit personal gain.

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