Top Republican Party officials said Thursday that they have been kept in the dark about hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in Tampa, Fla., by a committee temporarily headed by Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele, a committee at the heart of new questions about Mr. Steele's tenure.
Indiana RNC member Jim Bopp told The Washington Times that he and other RNC members were not told "who signed the checks or the purpose of the spending" at the so-called Committee on Arrangements (COA), created to coordinate RNC efforts for the 2012 party convention in Tampa.
Many Republicans have said they are concerned that the bad publicity received by the COA - which negotiates with the host city committee for hotel rooms, services and sites for convention events - will dry up private donations to finance the Tampa gathering.
Mr. Steele, facing a vote next month on a second two-year term as party chairman, has faced questions about his media savvy, his dealings with major donors and the state of the party's finances, despite GOP gains in the recent midterm elections.
At a private forum Thursday for candidates for the RNC chairman's post, Reince Priebus, Wisconsin GOP Chairman and the RNC's top legal adviser, brusquely declined to answer questions about the COA and its financial operations.
"I'm not going to answer, I'm not going to do it," said Mr. Priebus, a possible candidate for the top RNC post. "You'll have to talk with Tom Josefiak."
Mr. Josefiak, a former RNC general counsel, was appointed by Mr. Steele as general counsel to the COA. On June 29, 2009, Mr. Steele also appointed Maryland RNC member and Steele loyalist Louis Pope as COA treasurer. Mr. Josefiak did not respond to questions from The Times on Thursday.
Mr. Priebus declined to address a question on who authorized the COA spending that began in August - an unprecedented 26 months before the Tampa convention.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who dropped in unannounced at Thursday's RNC candidates forum, had been a staunch defender of Mr. Steele since his January 2009 election as party chairman, but that also could be changing.
CNN reported that Mr. Gingrich has recommended that Mr. Steele either accept a "very strong deputy" to help manage the RNC's internal affairs, "or else the RNC will have to find a new chairman."
Tennessee RNC member John Ryder said the RNC's handling of the COA controversy mirrored other problems the organization has had in responding to outside criticism.
Mr. Ryder said that in the sense Mr. Bopp meant, "there is no COA." Mr. Ryder added that he "could not find any reference to the COA" in his personal copies of minutes of RNC meetings and no formal record that the COA members had been officially appointed in accordance with RNC rules.
"I checked with both RNC staff and with RNC officers to see if that was correct - both sources confirmed that the COA has not been appointed," Mr. Ryder said. "That raises the question of how contracts can be entered into in the name of the COA."
Said a visibly angry Mr. Bopp, "We are going to have an investigation to get to the bottom of all this and we are going to take control of our convention."
Mr. Bopp said he signed a petition calling for a special executive committee meeting to create an ad hoc panel of RNC members to investigate COA spending. He said the RNC Executive Committee, of which he is a member, has oversight of the COA.
Mr. Pope, the COA treasurer, told The Times that Mr. Steele will name a permanent chairman and 55 other members of the COA "in the coming weeks," even though he acknowledged that the party in the past has allowed the new RNC chairman elected in January to name the COA leader and members.
"There are arrangements that need to be made now in Tampa and that won't wait until January," Mr. Pope said, adding that preparations are running ahead of past conventions.
"No members have been appointed to the COA, and Michael Steele is the acting chairman," Mr. Pope said.
He said news reports about the COA's supposed "premature and lavish" spending were inaccurate. "Not a dime of RNC money has been spent by the COA."
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