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Michael Steele's spending irks Republican donors -- could living large hurt GOP chances in November?

February 23, 2010 |  7:22 am

Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele Jan. 30, 2009
Christmas Party catered by Wolfgang Puck. Confabs in Hawaii. Private planes. Limos. Flowers.

The new GOP motto seems to be: Live Large. According to an analysis by Politico, since Michael Steele was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee more than a year ago, spending on creature comforts has ballooned -- charter flights doubled, sedan contracts tripled, meal expenses into the stratosphere, from $306,000 to $599,000.

Now, big league donors are angry, worried that Steele's big-spending ways will rob party coffers of funds needed to exploit the Democrats' political vulnerability in this year's midterm elections.

Michael Steele is an imperial chairman,” one longtime Republican fundraiser told Politico. “He flies in private aircraft. He drives in private cars. He has private consultants that are paid ridiculous retainers. He fancies himself a presidential candidate and wants all of the trappings and gets them by using other people’s money.”


Some major Republican donors are voting with their wallets -- taking their money elsewhere. The Republican Governors Assn. and the National Republican Senatorial Committee both report record fundraising gains this year.

Some of this may be sour grapes, simmering anger at Steele within the party for a series of self-inflicted political wounds -- like calling conservative icon Rush Limbaugh a mere entertainer and hinting that the Obama White House was motivated by racism in trying to muscle out New York Gov. David Paterson.

And Steele's defenders say the lavish spending is needed to attract donors in a year without a Republican president at the head of the ticket.

But donors note that the Bush-era RNC ran a tighter shop -- "Karl Rove would bitch if there were flowers on the tables,” said one. Another said, "We’ve written off the RNC. We’re playing elsewhere."

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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