- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2009

The embattled Republican National Committee chairman angrily returned fire in his fight with current and former officers over control of the GOP’s purse strings.

Under attack from conservatives since taking office on Jan. 30, Michael S. Steele on Wednesday blasted a group of members pushing for new checks and balances on the chairman’s spending powers, accusing them of a power grab “scheme.”

“I have just returned from an overseas trip to learn that the five of you have developed a scheme to transfer the RNC chairman’s authority to the treasurer and the executive committee,” Mr. Steele wrote in an e-mail he sent to Randy Pullen, the RNC’s elected treasurer, and Blake Hall, the committee’s general counsel, as well as to three former RNC officers.

In the e-mail, obtained by The Washington Times, Mr. Steele argues that he always has embraced the “transparency, competitive bidding and good governance” that Mr. Pullen and the others said their resolution aims to achieve.

Mr. Pullen and four other veteran members have proposed a resolution that imposes new controls on Mr. Steele’s power to award contracts and spend money on outside legal and other services. The group needs signatures from RNC members from 16 states to force the resolution to the floor for a vote by the full party committee at the May 20 special meeting.

“It is of course not lost on me that each of you worked tirelessly down to the last minute in an effort to stop me from becoming chairman,” Mr. Steele wrote.

Mr. Pullen, himself a candidate for treasurer, backed no one for national chairman. The party’s former general counsel David Norcross, a longtime friend and mentor to Mr. Steele, supported the South Carolina GOP chairman. Since then, Mr. Norcross said Mr. Steele has not responded to telephone calls and e-mails from him.

RNC members reached by The Times said they did not know Mr. Steele had been “overseas.” Steele spokesman Trevor Francis said “no comment” when The Times asked on Wednesday where exactly Mr. Steele had been.

In the e-mail, Mr. Steele said the resolution “amounts to nothing short of a completely unprecedented usurpation of the authority of the RNC chairman, and a transfer of the chairman’s authority to the executive committee and the treasurer. No RNC chairman has ever had to deal with this, and I certainly have no intention of putting up with it either.”

But Mr. Norcross, one of the measure’s sponsors, said in an e-mail to some members that the opposite is true. He argues that the financial checks and balances proposed in the resolution were always in play at the RNC and somehow got lost in the 2008 post-presidential nominating convention shuffle.

“Randy’s resolution or something very similar has been in place for years,” Mr. Norcross wrote. “It has been adopted as part of the ‘boilerplate’ at the organization meetings immediately after the convention every four years. Inexplicably it was not adopted in Minneapolis.”

Mr. Norcross then pointedly noted that the RNC’s “elected treasurer is subject to criminal and civil penalties for false reporting to the Federal Election Commission. I don’t think we should expect anyone to undertake that kind of exposure without this resolution or something very much like it.”

Mr. Pullen said he gave Mr. Steele the measure Thursday and was told he would get a response by Sunday. When the response didn’t arrive, Mr. Pullen informed the committee’s other 167 members of the effort, igniting a battle with members supportive of Mr. Steele.

Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus knocked the group for trying to “embarrass and neuter the chairman.”

The funding fight continues the open challenge to Mr. Steele’s authority. Unhappy RNC conservatives secured the signatures needed to force the committee to convene next month’s special meeting to vote on a resolution labeling Democrats as “socialists,” despite the chairman’s reservations about the political wisdom of the move.

Critics said the “socialist” resolution battle was a sign of Mr. Steele’s rocky start as RNC chairman and his continuing struggle to assert control of the party’s message since his election in January.

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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