- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Another public brawl has erupted between allies and critics of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele, threatening party unity 11 months before the GOP’s hoped-for comeback in the crucial 2010 midterm elections, Republicans on all sides say.

California RNC member Shawn Steel, an ally of the RNC chairman, on Tuesday accused Indiana RNC member Jim Bopp Jr. of pursuing a financially-motivated vendetta against Mr. Steele over the sensitive issue of who should receive campaign help from the funds collected from rank-and-file donors.

In a signed column in Politico, Mr. Steel said Mr. Bopp is trying to embarrass the party’s chairman by sponsoring a resolution that would apply a philosophical litmus test to candidates seeking financial help from the RNC.

Mr. Steel said the vendetta stemmed from Mr. Steele’s decision, shortly after taking office in January, to cancel Mr. Bopp’s contract with the RNC to oversee a legal challenge to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulations.

“The back story is that the ‘purity’ author, while undoubtedly a good lawyer, was also a close supporter of the defeated [previous] administration,” Mr. Steel wrote.

Mr. Bopp is the primary author of a widely-debated resolution seeking to apply what proponents call a “Ronald Reagan 80 percent agreement” test to GOP candidates before they qualify for RNC financial help.

Mr. Bopp called Mr. Steel’s allegation a “flat-out lie” and said his RNC contract to challenge the campaign finance restrictions remains intact. By early Tuesday evening Mr. Steel was backtracking on some of his assertions.

“I am very surprised at the viciousness of his false charges,” Mr. Bopp told The Washington Times. “I don’t know Shawn Steel at all, and I can only assume that he felt that he was losing the debate on this resolution, so he chose false personal attacks.”

Other RNC members staunchly defended Mr. Bopp.

“Your unfounded attack on Jim Bopp will not help the cause (any cause),” former RNC General Counsel David A. Norcross, a New Jersey RNC member, said in an angry e-mail to Mr. Steel.

“Contrary to your notion and that of some others, every proposal offered is not an attack on the [RNC] chairman. I think he knows that,” he said in the e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

Oregon RNC member Solomon Yue also lashed out at Mr. Steel.

“I am sorry to see this kind of vicious personal attack by one RNC member on another in public,” Mr. Yue, a member of the RNC Executive Committee, told The Times. “Shawn Steel owes Jim Bopp an apology because Mr. Steel’s ‘back story’ is wrong.”

Mr. Yue said he, not Mr. Bopp, first came up with the idea of introducing a philosophical litmus test for GOP candidates seeking RNC financial help, to regain credibility among the GOP’s restive conservative base.

Mr. Steel, a past chairman of the California Republican Party who helped lead the successful recall of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, said he never mentioned Mr. Bopp by name in his Politico column, although Bopp supporters said it was easy to identify the target of the piece.

Mr. Norcross told Mr. Steel that his opposition to the Bopp resolution is “right on the merits. Why the hell didn’t you leave it at that? What is gained by you and your allies continuing the anti-Steele fight which is (or was) just about over?”

Mr. Steele, his chief of staff Ken McKay and the RNC press secretary did not respond to questions posed by The Times about the status of Mr. Bopp’s contract.

Nor did they say whether Mr. Steele sees the Shawn Steel column as a personal attack in public by one RNC member on another RNC member or if the chairman agrees with - and condones - Mr. Steel’s assertion about Mr. Bopp’s motivation.

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