- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2011

Reince Priebus, just over a month into his term as Republican National Committee chairman, is cutting costs and cultivating the party’s donor base in an aggressive bid to fix the national party’s tattered balance sheet.

The former Wisconsin Republican Party chairman has less than 20 months to whip the GOP’s most important money-raising instrument into shape to ensure his party’s candidates can compete with President Obama and congressional Democrats in the 2012 elections.

The troubled tenure of predecessor Michael S. Steele left the RNC deeply in debt and with what was once a battalion of big donors reduced to platoon strength. Mr. Priebus faces a challenge of the magnitude not encountered by an RNC chairman since George H.W. Bush took over the national party headquarters at the height of the Watergate crisis.

“I’m spending six hours a day on the phone to donors,” Mr. Priebus told The Washington Times.

Unlike Mr. Steele, who managed to pick public fights with top conservatives and took months to recruit a finance chairman, Mr. Priebus, 38, has avoided the spotlight and has recruited GOP fundraiser Ron Weiser of Michigan, a former ambassador to Slovakia, to be co-chairman of an internal financial oversight panel.

**FILE** Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (Associated Press)
**FILE** Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (Associated Press) more >

“We are back on track,” said Mel Sembler, RNC finance chairman when Mr. Bush was elected president in 1988.

In contrast to Mr. Steele’s often difficult relations with the party’s top donors, Mr. Priebus radiates a gung-ho enthusiasm for pitching potential givers.

“I like talking with our donors,” he said.

Mr. Priebus and Mr. Sembler acknowledge that the RNC faces a long, steep comeback. The team has pared staff and frozen contract expenditures in an attempt to restore confidence within the party.

After defeating Mr. Steele and three other rivals in the mid-January vote for chairman, Mr. Priebus immediately put to work his party’s top fundraisers, who have raised enough to knock off $1 million from the RNC’s more than $23 million debt to banks and suppliers.

The Democratic National Committee reported to the Federal Election Commission this month a $16.8 million debt to banks and suppliers in the aftermath of an election cycle that forced the DNC to spend to the hilt in a bid to limit the scope of the electoral disaster in the midterm elections. But the DNC is not burdened by questionable fiscal management that shadows the RNC.

“The RNC owed banks $15 million and owed vendors $8 million, and we’ve paid vendors back $1 million of that,” Mr. Sembler said.

Mr. Priebus’ RNC now must pay off that huge remaining debt while attempting to raise at least as much as the $427 million that Mike Duncan raised as RNC chairman in the 2007-08 presidential campaign cycle.

It won’t be easy.

For one thing, GOP officials say, Mr. Priebus’ management team keeps discovering more hidden debt in the form of unpaid fees owed to banks and other long past-due bills amid the financial disarray left by Mr. Steele and his now-departed team of top aides.

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