Top Republican officials are outraged at Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele’s latest – and potentially last – spending scandal.
This time, Steele paid his former personal assistant, Belinda Cook, tens of thousands of dollars to begin work on the 2012 Republican convention in Tampa, Fla.
Cook’s qualifications for such a key position are unknown. Her son and sister are also on the payroll, and the GOP is paying rent on a posh waterfront mansion for Cook to reside in.
Solomon Yue, a member of the RNC’s Executive Committee, the top rung under the chairman in the committee’s power structure, is demanding an investigation into the suspicious spending.
“When Tea Party activists talk about changing Washington, they mean getting rid of these kind of ‘politics as usual’ practices,” Yue told The Daily Caller. “As a member of the RNC Executive Committee, it is our fiduciary responsibility under the Good Governance resolution to look into all those contracts in order to bring back the check and balance practice.”
Top Republicans hostile to the embattled RNC chairman say the latest round of recriminations are the final nail in Steele’s coffin, though Steele hasn’t said whether he will run again for chairman.
At issue are critical preparations for the national convention each party holds every four years. The conventions are massive undertakings with budgets in the tens of millions of dollars. Thousands of party activists stream into town and byzantine campaign laws complicate fundraising efforts. The conventions also offer each party its most high-profile effort to market their respective presidential candidates to the country.
To head this effort, Steele installed his former personal assistant, Cook, as the RNC’s “liaison to the convention.” The Washington Times first reported that GOP insiders were unhappy with the seemingly extravagant compensation she was receiving – a $25,000 signing bonus and salary of $180,000.
The Committee on Arrangements for the 2012 Republican National Convention, the legally separate organization from the RNC that is paying Cook, is also apparently paying rent on a waterfront mansion for Cook to reside in.
The payments as listed in Federal Election Commission filings are ostensibly to Sun Vista Realty. Three GOP officials close to the situation confirm the payments are for a waterfront mansion on South Yacht Drive in Treasure Island, Fla. Public records confirm Cook is living at the address.
The 3,143 square foot house features a private pool and dock. Including the garage and open porch, the house is over 4,200 square feet. A spokesman for Steele did not reply to a request for comment.
In the 2008 cycle, top convention officials did not move to the host city until April 2008. When they did, they lived in sparse, one bedroom apartments one or two blocks from the convention site.
Steele is facing charges of cronyism for Cook’s extravagant salary and accommodations. But also on the payroll are Cook’s son, Lee, and sister, Betina Barcus, who has been paid over $25,000 for “hotel management consulting.”
The payments to Cook’s sister are listed in FEC filings as going to “BB Consulting,” a firm which holds the same address as the home of John and Betina Barcus in Denton, Md., according to state property records.