Steele takes body blow with release of scathing letter from departing aide

Jon Ward Contributor
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Michael Steele’s chances of winning a second term as chairman of the Republican National Committee suffered a body blow Tuesday with the release of a searing letter from a departing top aide, who said Steele has wasted money and allowed the RNC’s donor base to “wither.”

Gentry Collins, who resigned Tuesday as the RNC’s political director, released a four-page letter (click here to read the letter) leveling a series of serious charges against Steele’s management of the RNC, which added up to what the chairman’s critics have been saying for weeks is “political malpractice.”

Collins said that the RNC spent 70 cents to raise each dollar, more than 20 cents higher than the historical cost of fundraising money. He said that “too much of the nearly 30-cents-on-the-dollar not spent on fundraising was spent on things other than winning elections.”

Republicans working to oust Steele have pointed to this higher than usual cost of fundraising as a key reason why the RNC has spent so much money and finds itself in debt.

Collins said that during the 2010 cycle, “the RNC allowed its major donor base to wither,” pointing out that in the last two midterm cycles, 2002 and 2006, the RNC raised $284 million and $243 million, respectively, compared to $170 million under Steele.

He attributed the drop to the loss of gifts from big dollar donors, and said that the rise in gifts from small dollar donors was not the “result from personal solicitation from the Chairman but, like other macro-political trends … reflective of the anti-Obama/Pelosi/Reid wave that drove energy and intensity to historic highs this cycle.”

Collins also said that many more Senate and House seats, as well as three governor’s seats, would have been in play and likely could have been won if the RNC had played its traditional role of funding a 72-hour get out the vote program in the last three days before the election.

The Senate races in Washington and Colorado “would have been won had a sufficient ground game and get out the vote efforts been made,” Collins said, citing a study by the Davis Intelligence Group. He said that governorships in Connecticut, Minnesota and Vermont would have also been won. And he listed 21 House seats that Republicans lost that “could have been competitive if not for lack of funds.”

He said that many of the 61 House seats that Republicans picked up “would not have been possible without the help of the [Republican Governors Association].”

The RNC has traditionally played a crucial role in raising money and organizing a get out the vote effort for the party’s presidential nominee. It also organizes the party convention, and will be key in helping vulnerable House members defend seats won this cycle.

“In the previous two non-presidential cycles, the RNC carried over $4.8 million and $3.1 million respectively in cash reserve balances into the presidential cycles,” Collins wrote. “In stark contrast, we enter the 2012 presidential cycle with 100% of the RNC’s $15 million in lines of credit tapped out, and unpaid bills likely to add millions to that debt.”

“In the 2012 cycle, winning elections must be the driving force behind every dollar the RNC spends,” he added. “We must dig out from huge debts, be focused and disciplined about spending wisely, only spend to win elections, and adopt a laser-like focus on the hard work of reviving our major donor fundraising network.”

RNC spokesman Doug Heye sent a statement to reporters that did not respond directly to Collins’ charges.

“For the first time in 16 years the Republican Party held neither the White House or either Chamber of Congress. Despite lacking that fundraising advantage, the RNC was able to raise more than $175 million, over $24 million more than the RNC raised during the entire 1994 cycle and over $36 million more than the DNC raised during the entire 2006 cycle, indexed for inflation,” the RNC statement said.

“Our resources enabled us to expand the playing field to all 50 states and break records with 45 million voter contacts, over 200,000 volunteers, 360 Victory field offices and 358 Victory field staffers. These accomplishments are shared by our entire team at the RNC as well as volunteers, donors and state parties. Their efforts enabled us to contribute to the most successful elections for the Republican Party in modern times.”

Steele has been in the cross hairs of a large portion of the Republican Party establishment in Washington for some time now. The Daily Caller had reported earlier this week that key Republicans, who just over a week ago were concerned that Steele might not be beatable, were now satisfied that they could defeat him and replace him with a chairman better to their liking.

Collins’ letter is a major blow to Steele’s chances of being elected for a second term. Sources close to Steele had told TheDC for weeks that he may not choose to run, and began floating that idea more broadly this week. It may be a possible exit strategy.

Katon Dawson, the former chair of the South Carolina state GOP and a rival of Steele’s, renewed the call he first made earlier this year for Steele to resign.

“The chairman should take some credit for our success and do the right thing and move on,” Dawson told TheDC. “He has a place in republican history. Any effort for reelection will just tarnish the good things he did.”

“We as a party will need all hands on deck and no distractions while we prepare to take on team Obama,” he said.

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