The Republican National Committee's new special panel to study where the party went wrong in this year's election is already taking heat from leaders who say the RNC's first priority should be addressing its own ineptitude and cronyism and reining in the rampant profiteering of consultants.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus announced the five-member Growth and Opportunity Project earlier this week, saying it would look at flaws in the party's voter-turnout program and the problems with delivering the GOP message.
But Cleta Mitchell, legal adviser to several GOP House and Senate leaders, said the RNC and the party have more fundamental problems.
"Until Chairman Priebus and other GOP leaders focus on rooting out the greed, cronyism, and corruption of the 'little white boy' consultants who make millions of dollars, year in and year out, and yet lose elections — and until there is real accountability and transparency to donors to ensure that integrity is restored to GOP circles — none of these initiatives will matter," Mrs. Mitchell said.
Mr. Priebus named Mississippi RNC member Henry Barbour, the nephew of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, to be chairman of the panel. Joining Mr. Barbour are Zori Fonalledas, a well-liked, quiet RNC member from Puerto Rico; South Carolina RNC member Glenn McCall; Sally Bradshaw, who was chief of staff for then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; and Ari Fleischer, who was President George W. Bush's White House spokesman.
"This process will include individuals and groups that span the spectrum from the tea party to evangelicals, to business and grass roots," RNC spokesman Sean Spicer said. "Everyone who wants to help grow this party will be given an opportunity."
Veteran GOP campaign adviser Charlie Black gave his blessing to the Priebus initiative, calling it a "good committee, with a lot of campaign experience, all from outside the Beltway."
But Paul Erickson, an adviser to the campaign of presidential nominee Mitt Romney, registered his skepticism, predicting that "change, if it comes, will be driven by forces and ideas outside of the RNC, which the RNC will then mimic."
Virginia RNC member Morton Blackwell, long an independent conservative voice on the national committee, suggested the party will have to look beyond its national governing body for answers.
"Serious reviews are certainly necessary, and they will be conducted inside and outside of the RNC," said Mr. Blackwell, who has publicly endorsed Mr. Priebus. "No such study or comprehensive reform program will be credible unless serious steps are proposed to identify and crush consultants responsible for warping campaign spending toward commissionable expenses and allowing the [political] left a huge advantage in effective ground-game activities."
In one example of "warping," days before the Nov. 6 elections, news broke that authorities were investigating Nathan Sproul's Strategic Allied Consulting for suspected voter-registration fraud in several states. Mr. Sproul had been accused of similar crimes in the past.
The GOP paid Strategic Allied Consulting millions to register voters in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia.
Mr. Priebus is seeking re-election next month to another term as RNC chairman and enjoys broad support from GOP congressional leaders and RNC members from almost all 50 states. He has asked his panel to come up with ways for the GOP and its candidates to make more voters feel welcome in the GOP tent while keeping all the party's conservative principles intact inside that tent.
But while Mr. Priebus and the panel look for answers to what went wrong, others in the GOP ranks have already singled out at least one factor: the party's dependence on consultants who, some critics contend, are more dedicated to lining their own pockets than to advancing Republicanism.
Accusations of cronyism and profiteering by consultants hired by the Romney campaign and by the RNC have been hurtling around the Internet in the wake of President Obama's successful voter-turnout effort that helped him win 67 percent of youths, 73 percent of Asians, 71 percent of Hispanics and, in Florida, more Cubans than Mr. Romney, by 49 percent to 47 percent.
"If any of Chairman Priebus' autopsy committee members had a specific suggestion that was ignored by the powers that be in the past campaign, then by all means trumpet such a cure. Otherwise, let the body rest in peace until it can be reanimated by techniques championed by doctors outside, rather than coroners inside, the morgue," said Mr. Erickson.
Mrs. Mitchell was specific in her criticisms and recommendations to Mr. Priebus about cronyism and consultant profiteering, saying that "the very consultants I am talking about are probably looking at the initiative, and where some of us see votes and voters, they're seeing dollar signs."
"Reince has to pull the plug on that if he wants to be bold and if his efforts are going to succeed," she said.
She said one key will be to get an explanation for how Mr. Sproul won contracts this cycle.
Mrs. Mitchell said Mr. Sproul "had done the same thing in previous cycles ... so who were his sugar daddies who kept getting him fat contracts to do nothing?"
For the 2012 presidential election cycle, the RNC raised $400 million, in round numbers, compared with the Democratic National Committee's $315 million. The RNC also spent more — $394 million compared with the DNC's $308 million — yet lost in the voter-turnout battle to Mr. Obama and the Democrats.
But the DNC wound up nearly $21 million in debt, while the RNC finished debt free. That was considered quite an accomplishment after Mr. Priebus, who took over as chairman in 2011, inherited a committee deeply in debt after the controversial chairmanship of his predecessor, Michael S. Steele.
Mr. Priebus and his postmortem committee have the delicate task of assessing and then revealing how much of the GOP's presidential and Senate campaign losses resulted from any inadequacies in the RNC voter-turnout effort and how much was attributable to ineptitude or worse on the part of Mr. Romney's and other GOP candidates' campaigns.
The Romney campaign all but took over the RNC's voter-turnout operation.
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