Probe of Steele spending sought

RNC leader cites ‘wasted donors’ dollars’ in request

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A member of the Republican National Committee’s top panel will call for an investigation of RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele’s spending, warning that “cronyism” dried up big-donor fundraising this year and now is jeopardizing major-donor fundraising for the 2012 GOP presidential nominating convention in Tampa, Fla.

Oregon RNC member Solomon Yue will call on the group's executive committee to freeze hiring and spending and review all RNC contracts.

“We know the RNC’s big donors left us in this election cycle because Steele pocketed speaking fees and book royalties, and because he hired aides and friends - and paid them two to three times more than market value,” Mr. Yue, an executive committee member and a founder of the Republican National Conservative Caucus, told The Washington Times.

Steele has wasted donors’ dollars on spending that had nothing to do with electing our House and Senate candidates on Nov. 2,” he said.

Mr. Yue’s call raised the 21-month-old insurgency within the Steele-led RNC to a new level of acrimony.

The controversy escalated amid revelations that Mr. Steele’s longtime personal assistant Belinda Cook; her son, Lee Cook; and her sister, Betina Barcus, had rented a house in Tampa and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars negotiating and planning for the 2012 GOP convention - 25 months before the event.

Mr. Yue cited a Nov. 18 report in The Washington Times that Mr. Steele hired Mrs. Cook as “liaison” to the host city committee for the convention. The Times reported that Mr. Steele signed a contract awarding Mrs. Cook $15,000 a month plus a $25,000 “signing” bonus. The paper also reported that Mr. Steele put Mrs. Cook and a team of operatives in Tampa six months earlier than previous regimes.

RNC spending for Tampa through September exceeded $636,800 - or 18 times the total spent in a comparable period four years ago, based on data available on the Federal Election Commission website, The Washington Post reported on Saturday.

“All told, the extended Cook family received $106,291 in known compensation from the Committee on Arrangements in the three month period from July 1 to Sept. 30,” the Daily Caller reported Monday.

Neither Mr. Steele nor his spokesman, Doug Heye, responded Monday to a request for comment.

Mr. Steele, who’s been fending off critics of his stormy two years at the helm of the RNC, points to the electoral successes of the party - winning the House and gubernatorial victories in states that supported President Obama such as New Jersey and Virginia - to validate his performance.

“None of my predecessors have been able to put together the kind of combination of wins. And it’s because we tried to make the party more grass-roots-oriented - not top down, but bottom up,” Mr. Steele said earlier this month on NPR.

He once told critics, including three respected former RNC chairmen: “If you don’t want me in the job, fire me. But until then, shut up. Get with the program or get out of the way.”

But the number of high-profile party members willing to publicly question Mr. Steele’s performance has increased steadily in the past several weeks, with a handful of party members declaring bids for the top slot or indicating they’re considering a run.

Ann Wagner, former RNC co-chairman and former ambassador to Luxembourg, announced her candidacy for chairman on Monday.

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About the Author
Ralph Z. Hallow

Ralph Z. Hallow

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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