Potential RNC candidates ding Michael Steele over finances

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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If a theme song were chosen for the first Republican National Committee chairman debate it would’ve been the O’Jays ditty “For The Love of Money” that goes “Money! Money! Money! Money!”

Though current RNC Chairman Michael Steele was not present at the first debate among RNC chairman hopefuls, the state of the committee’s finances and spending under his tenure played a starring role.

Former Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis suggested Steele hasn’t worked hard enough to reach out to big donors. Recalling conversations with those donors who didn’t make donations this year, Anuzis said “the amazing thing is, 8 of 10 of them said, ‘We weren’t asked.’”

Former RNC political director Gentry Collins, who worked for Steele until resigning recently, said more races could’ve been won if the committee had raised more money. He said the only way to fix that problem is to have a chairman who is “laser focused” on raising funds for essential “get out the vote” programs.

Collins, who has not announced a candidacy but says he’s seriously considering one, elaborated: “The problem in 2010 is we did not have the resources to deploy that ground game…the next chairman has got to do that.”

Former Missouri RNC committee member Ann Wagner, who announced her candidacy Tuesday, said she views the role of chairman as  “money first, it’s money second, it’s money third.”

“The kind of resources we receive are the difference in winning presidential election or not,” she said. “It’s the difference between winning a Senate race or not.”

Former RNC chairman Mike Duncan said the chairman has many roles, and the first is being a fundraiser.

Throughout his tenure as chair since January 2009, Steele has faced criticism for the committee’s fundraising and spending under his leadership. The committee’s most recent filings with the Federal Election Committee are expected to be released Thursday, which will give a glimpse of the RNC’s finances in the weeks leading up to November’s elections.

Other potential candidates, like Steele, Connecticut GOP chairman Chris Healy, former Bush administration official Maria Cino and former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman did not attend the National Republican Conservative Caucus and FreedomWorks forum.

FreedomWorks, a group affiliated with the Tea Party movement, billed the event as “the first time in RNC history” when an outside organization had “direct access to potential party leadership to ask the tough policy questions that will determine the future of the Republican Party.”

The National Republican Conservative Caucus, a conservative group within the RNC that has developed 13 points of criteria for selecting a chairman, will privately interview the candidates Thursday.

The four candidates at the Washington Hilton sat at a single table on a stage with both the American Flag and the Gadsden flag, a symbol embraced by the Tea Party movement.

FreedomWorks’ Max Pappas said those who attended signified they respected the “importance of the Tea Party movement.” Many of the questions came from Tea Party activists in the audience.

Asked about the threat potential third party challengers pose to Republicans, Duncan said he was disappointed in Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkoswki, who lost to a Tea Party Republican in the GOP primary but went on to run as a write-in.

“I was personally disappointed,” he said about Murkowski.

Wagner said the chairman should always “go with the will of the people in the outcome of those primaries” and Collins said the RNC should “respect the will of the primary electorate in every case.” Anuzis called third party challenges “really harmful.”

The 168 members of the RNC will elect a chairman and other committee officers at their January winter meeting.