- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A group of former Republican National Committee finance chairmen issued an unprecedented joint public condemnation of RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele on Tuesday and urged his defeat in the upcoming election for party chief.

The top party fundraising officials, all of whom saw service under previous GOP national chairmen, urged the 168 members of the RNC to elect any of the four candidates running against Mr. Steele to lead the GOP into the 2012 presidential election.

Without endorsing a particular candidate, the six wrote, “New [RNC] leadership is the only way the Republican Party will be successful in electing a Republican president in 2012.”

The fight over the next RNC chairman has emerged as one of the first key political battles of the year, with Mr. Steele struggling to win a second two-year term in the vote to be held Jan. 14. Mr. Steele, who announced late last year that he was seeking a second two-year term, has staunchly defended his record and management style, pointing to major GOP gains at the polls over the past two years.

But the former finance chairmen’s letter could prove another major obstacle for the former Maryland lieutenant governor and the first black to head the Republican Party. Many party insiders worry that the financial and management disarray at the RNC could hamper Republican efforts to make major gains in the 2012 electoral cycle.

The six signers of the letter, sent to all 168 RNC members, who will elect the new chairman, were Howard Leach of San Francisco; Larry Bathgate of Lakewood, N.J.; Mel Sembler of St. Petersburg, Fla.; Sam Fox of St. Louis; Dwight Schar of Washington, D.C.; and Al Hoffman of North Palm Beach, Fla.

All of the signers except for Mr. Fox once served as RNC finance chairman, one of the top money-raising positions in the party hierarchy. Mr. Fox headed the RNC Regents Committee, which works with many of the party’s top donors.

The letter noted that while other party organizations, including the Republican Governors Association and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, had posted record fundraising totals in the past election cycle, “the amount collected by the RNC from our major-donor programs has dropped to less than 25 percent of what the major-donor programs raised during the previous comparable time period.”

“In addition, the cost of Internet, direct-mail and other electronic fundraising as a percentage of revenue has increased so substantially that it significantly reduced net funds available. A huge majority of our previous donors abandoned the party to switch their support to these other organizations, having lost confidence in the current chairman’s ability to inspire and convince donors that their money will be held in sacred trust, not frivolously spent, and then spent only on our mission with well-defined and disciplined constraints — to elect Republicans to office.”

Mr. Steele’s four announced opponents for party chairman are former RNC General Counsel Reince Priebus; former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis; former Bush administration official Maria Cino; and former Missouri party Chairwoman and RNC Co-Chairwoman Ann Wagner. Mr. Priebus, who heads the Wisconsin Republican Party, has the most public endorsements from RNC committee members, but the race is still considered wide open.

Mr. Steele’s financial management and the disaffection of major-party donors with the RNC were a prime lines of attack for his challengers at a public debate Monday at the National Press Club.

“How can an organization that has lost its credibility, is $20 million in debt, is steeped in mismanagement, distractions and drama actually lead us into the next election cycle of 2012 and offer change?” said Mrs. Wagner.

The RNC “is broken, and it needs to be fixed,” she said.

Mr. Steele gave a spirited defense of his record at the debate, noting that the bottom line for a party chairman is victory at the polls. Republicans captured the House of Representatives, boosted their caucus in the Senate and scored major wins in statehouse and gubernatorial races in the November midterm elections.

“We won in all 50 states, and that’s the goal — winning,” Mr. Steele said.

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