Republican infighting escalated Monday with allegations and denials over $4 million once destined for the party’s congressional campaign committees.
Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele sought to placate critics by giving $1 million to each of his party’s debt-ridden campaign committees — a move that follows a month of bad reviews, national slip-ups and a high-profile fight with one of the country’s most famous conservatives.
But sources told The Hill that Robert “Mike” Duncan, the former chairman, had written checks three times that size — for $3 million to each committee — before he left, and that Steele slashed them to the smaller number.
That is a “lie,” says the RNC — and so another round of recrimination begins.
Duncan wrote $3 million checks to both the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to help them pay down their debt, sources told The Hill.
But Duncan, out of deference to whoever became the next chairman, decided not to deliver the checks. To do so in advance of the January race for RNC chairman, the sources said, would have appeared self-serving. Duncan did not return a call seeking comment.
Steele beat Duncan and a field of three other candidates on Jan. 30 to become head of the RNC. He was briefed on Duncan’s plan to hand over the money, according to a source inside RNC headquarters.
“Steele and his team were told, I think, as much as they cared to hear,” the source said. “I don’t believe there were long conversations between the two chairmen.”
On March 5, the RNC sent each committee a $1 million check, a move praised by the committee heads. But one RNC source described it as a “deep-water desperation move” after Steele suffered criticism from within his party for perceived flubs.
Following a series of misstatements that have resulted in criticism from both inside and outside the GOP, Steele canceled a number of interviews scheduled for this week, including one with The Hill, ostensibly to focus on hiring several senior staffers.
As part of his damage-control efforts, Steele participated in a Friday conference call with members of the RNC, where he apologized and sought to reassure them that he would refocus on the task at hand, according to several people who participated in the call.
One of the missteps that had committee members and party strategists most concerned was when Steele seemed to dismiss Rush Limbaugh, the talk radio host. Limbaugh fired back, saying on his show that a significant number of his listeners would not contribute to the RNC.
The Steele-Limbaugh controversy was parodied in a biting sketch on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” this weekend, a skit of which many Republicans took note.
The incident, said another prominent RNC member, would cost the party a significant amount of money from small-dollar contributors who listen to Limbaugh’s show. The RNC has counted on money from Limbaugh’s fans for decades.
Republican strategists fret that fundraising will slow significantly under Steele.
Sources said he called NRCC head Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas), NRSC head Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), House Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Senate GOP chief Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Thursday to tell them about the money transfers.
The larger checks would obviously have improved both committees’ finances more. The NRSC would have been able to pay off most of its $4.9 million debt, reported at the end of December, while the NRCC would have been able to pay back almost half of the $6.5 million in debt it carried through the end of January.
At the time of the $1 million transfer, Cornyn and Sessions each sent out statements thanking Steele for his commitment to down-ballot races. Spokesmen for the NRSC and the NRCC both declined to comment for this article and referred to their previous statements.
Those who follow House and Senate contests say the reduced debt, especially in light of the stacks of bills both Democratic campaign committees must contend with, would have been a useful tool in recruiting top-flight candidates to run.
“The best way to win back the House and the Senate is to get good candidates now,” said one RNC member.
Under Duncan, the RNC had planned to spend heavily — roughly equivalent to the money that had been earmarked for the committees — on gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, both states where the GOP has good shots at winning back seats, according to the RNC member.
The change in plans likely had little to do with the national party’s own financial shape. Though the NRCC and NRSC consistently lost the monthly fundraising battle with their Democratic rivals, the RNC under Duncan beat the Democratic National Committee with regularity, and by no small margins.
When Duncan left his post at the end of January, the party reported a healthy $22.8 million in the bank, with no debt to weigh it down.
Former NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.), who has prided himself on leaving his old committee with less debt after a cycle than at any time since 1993, said a financial house in order can bolster every aspect of the committee’s operations.
“Nobody likes to donate to pay back debt,” Cole said. “As you move further on down the line, the stronger your financial position is, the better off you are. It helps with donations. It helps with recruitment. It helps your credibility with the press.”
Oh, God. If this keeps up, the dems wont need to do anything to bring them down...