RNC Raises A Lot Of Cash And Criticisms

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The Republican National Committee has been raising record amounts of money, but it also is spending record amounts. One item in particular is causing problems: A bar tab from a topless nightclub in West Hollywood, Calif. Besides that, there have been criticisms against chairman Michael Steele, who has had his own issues with expenses.


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Mary Louise Kelly. The telephone has been ringing a lot this week at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee. Usually, the committee is glad to hear from donors and potential donors. But right now, they're getting an earful from supporters. It seems the committee has been raising record amounts, but also spending record amounts.

And one item in particular - a bar tab from a topless nightclub in West Hollywood - has been giving the GOP indigestion. Joining us to talk about what's happening at headquarters and what it means to Republican chairman Michael Steele, is NPR news analyst Juan Williams.

Hey, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Good morning. So, first off, remind us what happened with this nightclub and what the RNC's doing to put this story behind them.

WILLIAMS: Well, it's something you would see in, like, a bizarre movie. Apparently, there was an effort made by a fundraiser in California with what they call young eagles, which are big donors to the Republican Party, people between 30 and 40 years old. And they had them at a hotel in Beverly Hills. But afterwards, this fundraiser, Eric Brown arranged for them to take a little...

KELLY: A little detour.

WILLIAMS: ...a little detour over to Voyeur West Hollywood. I haven't been there, but from what I hear, it's an erotic nightclub that features bondage. So, a pretty bizarre place. And according to the FEC report that came out in February, he ran up a bill of over $1,900, and then was reimbursed by the Republican National Committee for this expenditure, which is pretty embarrassing.

KELLY: So big bar tab, big problem. But there's a wider problem here going on with RNC finances.

WILLIAMS: There is. The problem is curious in this sense, that there has been a record amount of money raised by the RNC over the last year - over $96 million. But if you'll recall, Mary Louise, they had their winter retreat in Hawaii. And it was at an exorbitant resort.

If you looked at their spending report over the last year or so, what you'll see is things like in February, $17,000 on jets, $35,000 on hotels, $43,000 on expense accounts. The question is why so much of it has been spent, and is it being spent in exorbitant fashion that is not in keeping with the time of economic recession - especially when Republicans politically are complaining about big spending by the Obama administration.

This is part, now, of a larger set of grievances that are being voiced about the RNC, and in particular about chairman Michael Steele.

KELLY: OK. Michael Steele, the chairman of the party, he's had his own issues with expenses - some private planes and limos and that type thing. But he has a lot of defenders in the party. What is your sense? Is he in trouble, or will all this blow over?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it's one of these things that I don't think that Michael Steele could be forced out, but I think he's under pressure. This has been going on for some time with Steele.

I mean, he had to fight to get the position. And then once he was in there, there have been arguments about the fact that he was giving speeches for money. People saw that as overreaching. He had a book come out, and many people in the party didn't know that he had written a book or had a book come out. And, of course, then there was the whole business of these winter meetings in Hawaii and the limousines and all that. And people see him as somewhat self-aggrandizing at times, Mary Louise. So he's not a popular figure.

And what the result has been, lots of money now going over the Republican Congressional Committee, Republican Senate Committee, where people are saying, you know what? Let me just put my money elsewhere if I believe in the Republican Party and avoid Michael Steele and this whole controversy.

If that continues, then I think what you're going to see is Michael Steele under so much pressure that he may have to step away. His only saving grace at this point is that he has had success as a fundraiser.

KELLY: All right. It'll be interesting to watch. NPR's Juan Williams. Thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Mary Louise.

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