Dollars Leave RNC, Go To Other GOP Groups

Some Republicans who are distrustful of the Republican National Committee under Michael Steele's scandal-plagued leadership are turning to other GOP groups for fundraising efforts and resource allocation. Alternative GOP organizations like the Republican Governors Association, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the newly formed group American Crossroads, established by Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove, have claimed some of the RNC's donor base. But NPR news analyst Juan Williams says Steele hopes to keep his position.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

In a typical election year, Democrats and Republicans vying for office rely primarily on their national committees for major fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts. But this year, the Republican National Committee is operating at a deficit and having problems raising money. Some say it's a consequence of the scandal-plagued leadership of RNC chairman Michael Steele.

For more, NPR news analyst Juan Williams is in our Washington studios. Welcome back, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good to be with your, Liane.

HANSEN: I think it's safe to say that even Michael Steele would admit that he's a controversial figure within the Republican Party. How is his leadership affecting the group's ability to raise money?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think what you have is a real tension within the members of the Republican Party in terms of their leadership. Take, for instance, the people who were in the Bush administration, specifically Karl Rove. They really are trying to set up an alternative universe of donors and support network in the Republican Party versus the RNC, as led by Michael Steele.

As you pointed out, theyve raised not as much money as the Democratic National Committee for this campaign cycle. And so, what you get is a sudden rush of people who are trying to kind of supplement what the RNC is able to do.

HANSEN: Tell us more about that, because the Republicans are getting outside help from a handful of alternative conservative groups. Who are they and how do they operate?

WILLIAMS: Well, this is fascinating stuff because I think this is a truly a new epic in terms of fundraising for the American people. It has two roots, Liane. One is, of course, the Citizens United case by the Supreme Court that unleashed corporations now to raise money. They have to funnel it through some of these nonprofits or social agencies in a way that we've never seen before. And the second thing is I think you see lots of people now who have questions about how much money is going into American politics.

So, the best example I think, Liane, is what's going on with Republican-leaning groups that don't disclose their donors and are raising and spending millions of dollars for the congressional races in particular, helping to make up for the party's fundraising deficit. Now, those groups specifically - let me point to Crossroads GPS and American Crossroads, both groups set up by Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove, President Bush's political advisors.

So, what you get is that Rove's group has already spent about 32 million, or raised about 32 million I should say, and they have pledged to raise 50 million in this cycle. And Karl Rove tells the New York Times that we want this to be durable as, again, an alternative to Michael Steele and the Republican National Committee.

HANSEN: Well, the RNC has always been the traditional power center for the Republican Party. So, the emergence of these groups, as I understand what you're saying, is this a vote of no confidence in Steele's leadership or is there something else working here?

WILLIAMS: Well, Michael Steele, this week he was on a bus tour and he sent me an email and we were talking. And he to me, you know, quote - and this is a quote - "they are scared to death right now and I love it." And he's talking about the GOP establishment. He's talking about the idea that Rove and others are very uncomfortable with the idea that he is more reactive to things like the Tea Party, that he has a different way to go.

Now, the contrary position comes from people who see Michael Steele's leadership as unstable, that he's been involved in a number of controversies, if not scandals, and that small donors in particular are not giving in the way that they should be. But it's big donors who are then turning to people like Karl Rove.

HANSEN: And, I mean, you said that you had talked to Michael Steele. What's your impression? Do you think he'll actually stay in the job beyond the midterm elections?

WILLIAMS: My guess is - and this comes from not only Steele but from his critics - is that he is campaigning to stay in the job. Because, remember, he controls against funding for things like the big Republican convention to be held in Tampa. And the critics are upset about who gives out these contracts, how it went - it's all about money, Liane. I hate to break it to you, but politics is about money.

And I think Steele enjoys the position. So, are seeing - we have a tension between the Tea Party and the establishment; we have tension now between the Republican National Committee and this alternative universe of fundraisers. It is very interesting on the Republican side.

HANSEN: And I'm sure the Democrats are watching very closely.

WILLIAMS: Licking their chops and hoping that it might mean that they are not going to get swept away in November, as so many are predicting.

HANSEN: NPR news analyst Juan Williams. Juan, thank you very much.

WILLIAMS: Good Sunday, Liane.

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