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Credibility gap

Politics | RNC chair is a trouble magnet

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," April 24, 2010

Just when Republicans should be feeling a surge of momentum, a series of embarrassments from the party's national leadership is slowing it. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele appears set to keep his post despite the two most recent scandals: First the party paid $1,900 for young donors to spend an evening at a racy night club in Los Angeles. The midlevel staffer who authorized the expense was fired. Then the RNC sent out fundraising mailers with a return phone number that turned out to be a sex line. It was an error, said the RNC-the number was supposed to have the Washington, D.C., area code 202, but instead was printed as an 800 number. Soon after, RNC chief of staff Ken McKay, the top adviser to Steele, resigned and one of the RNC's top consultants, Curt Anderson, cut ties with the committee following McKay's departure.

"The buck stops with me. That is why I have made this change in management," Steele wrote in an internal memo. But Steele's chief rival during the fight for the chairmanship, Katon Dawson, told The Washington Post that Steele should be taking more responsibility for the lapses at the committee. Two-thirds of the 168-member RNC would have to vote to remove Steele, an unlikely scenario given the party's success in recent elections. But the chairman has had a controversial tenure since he took office in 2009, with news articles scrutinizing his spending habits and his personal book promotions. Most recently reports surfaced that the chairman arranged for the Michigan GOP to raise money from local RNC donors-who have no contribution limits at the state level. The state party then allegedly passed the money on to the national party to buoy its fundraising numbers.

The committee faces the larger problem heading into November of having spent almost as much as it raised so far in this election cycle. To raise money for Republican candidates without the tarnished RNC brand, Steele's predecessor, Mike Duncan, has helped start an independent group called American Crossroads.

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Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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