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Republican phone sex scandal, fundraising challenge add to RNC woes

The Republican phone sex scandal ensued after that RNC directed potential donors to the wrong number. Meanwhile, a conservative leader told his followers to stop giving to the RNC, and a competing organization is raising money for GOP candidates.

By Dave CookStaff writer / April 1, 2010

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele. A drumbeat of unfavorable news has cast his managerial skills in a bad light. But for now, he seems likely to keep his job.

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The Republican National Committee’s grim week continued with a fundraising letter mistakenly directing donors to a phone sex line, the formation of a competing organization to raise money for GOP candidates, and a major conservative leader telling his followers to stop giving to the RNC.

Those developments followed a damaging flap earlier in the week about the RNC's reimbursement of $2,000 in expenses at a Hollywood nightclub featuring topless dancers and bondage outfits. In response, the RNC fired a staffer who authorized the payment and promised to seek reimbursement from the contractor who had racked up charges at Club Voyeur.

The stream of bad news is likely to make it harder for key party organizations to raise money for the 2010 elections.

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“The greatest damage to Republicans from the controversies surrounding the RNC is the collateral damage to their House and Senate committees and Republican Governors Association,” says Charlie Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Those organizations – and not the RNC – have primary responsibility for coordinating and funding crucial midterm election campaigns for House, Senate, and gubernatorial races. “These stories are like a wet blanket, making it harder for the other committees to do their jobs, harder to capitalize on a political climate that is highly favorable” for Republicans, Mr. Cook says.

Drumbeat of unfavorable news

The drumbeat of unfavorable news has cast RNC chairman Michael Steele’s managerial skills in an unfavorable light. But at the moment he seems likely to keep his position.

“Some are calling for Chairman Steele’s resignation, but it’s doubtful that can succeed,” says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “It is hard to remove a party chairman in mid-term.”

Removing Mr. Steele would require the 168 members of the RNC to hold a special meeting, vote by a two-thirds majority to remove him, and then agree on a replacement. The process would be especially awkward because Steele is black and his party has a predominately white face in Congress.

Still, it has been an exceptionally painful couple of days for the RNC.

Due to what RNC spokesman Doug Heye said was a typographical error, the organization sent out a fundraising mail piece earlier in March with a phone number that led to a phone sex line offering a $2.99-a-minute conversation with “a nasty girl who will do anything you want.” The story was first reported by Politico. The RNC said it will not use the vendor who made the mistake “for the foreseeable future.”

Competing for GOP donor funds

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported that a number of former high-ranking party officials said they would launch a new political group, called American Crossroads, to help raise $52 million for Republican candidates. The organization would thus compete with the RNC for donor funds. It will be run by former RNC chairman Mike Duncan and former party co-chair Joanne Davidson. Advisers include former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie.

Not only are competing organizations springing up, but donors are being urged not to give to the RNC.

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, is urging supporters in his e-mail newsletter not to give to the RNC.

Mr. Perkins charged that the RNC is “tone-deaf to the values and concerns of a large number of people from whom they seek financial support.”

“I've hinted at this before, but now I am saying it – don't give money to the RNC,” he wrote. “If you want to put money into the political process, and I encourage you to do so, give directly to candidates who you know reflect your values.”

An RNC spokesman did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment on Perkins’ statements in time for publication.

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