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Michael Steele Defends RNC Expenditures on U.S. Territories

RNC chairman heralds "groundbreaker" victory in Guam.

5:57 PM, Jan 3, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Following the RNC debate in Washington D.C. this afternoon, Chairman Michael Steele vigorously defended his controversial decision to spend RNC money on Republicans in the U.S. territories--a move that a number of RNC members saw as an unwise use of resources and a cynical attempt to win the votes of the 15 RNC members from the five territories. "Any chairman who comes into this job thinking he’s going to pick and choose between which state parties to help doesn’t need to be chairman," Steele told THE WEEKLY STANDARD. "There is no choice. If you can help, you help. If it is in Guam or Florida, you do what is necessary for a Republican to win in those places."

Michael Steele Defends RNC Expenditures on U.S. Territories

But couldn't the money spent on the territories--which do not have a vote in the U.S. House or Senate--have been better spent in one of the states? "It could help [to spend] $15,000 in Colorado. It could help $15,000 in Guam. It could help $15,000 in Puerto Rico. In the Virgin Islands," Steele replied, as he became increasingly defensive.  "Okay, so when you’re chairman you make that decision, and then you deal with the chairman and the national committeeman and the national committeewoman sittin on the phone with you, screaming at you for not helping them for $15,000. We won the governorship. The most wins here and now you’re going to sit back here and parse? Oh, well, gee if you had taken $15,000 from there and put it over here--tell me the seat you could have won with that, when you know you could have helped them out and won a groundbreaker for them in Guam."

In fact, the RNC spent much more than $15,000 on the territories in total: Steele sent $20,000 to the Northern Mariana Islands in 2009, and in 2010 he sent $15,000 to Guam and $5,000 to the Virgin Islands--not to mention the money spent sending two RNC staffers to Guam and on Steele's own travel to the territories two months before the midterm elections.  "The idea of Steele traveling to Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with little more than 60 days left is outrageous, especially given our limited fundraising and political support to campaigns nationwide," one RNC member told CNNRNC member Henry Barbour later told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that Steele's spending on the territories was emblematic of his failure to make fundraising his top priority.

When I suggested this afternoon that the money might have made a difference in one of the close House races lost by just hundreds of votes, Steele replied: "The bottom line is we won 64 seats. So you wanted 65?"

Some Republicans would have wanted 65, I said.

Steele replied with something of a non sequitur: "Yeah, but we couldn’t count to 39 a year ago. You couldn’t identify the 39 seats you were going to win a year ago. Okay? So put yourself a year ago. Don’t look at right now and ask that question. Go back a year and tell me the 39 seats you absolutely know you would have won. There’s not a person in this town who’s worth their political salt who can give you that answer."

You can read a transcript of the exchange with Steele after the jump: 

TWS: One [charge] some of your critics have leveled is that it was unwise to spend money on the territories. What’s your response to that?

 

STEELE: The territories aren’t a part of the Republican party? We won the governorship and the lieutenant governorship of Guam.

 

TWS: But is it more important—

 

STEELE: Fifteen thousand dollars.

 

TWS: But would it have been more important—

 

STEELE: No, there’s nothing more important than helping a state party that asks for help. There’s nothing more important than that. And any chairman who comes into this job thinking he’s going to pick and choose between which state parties to help doesn’t need to be chairman. You don’t get to make that decision. The only question when you are asked can you help is, “how?.” That’s it.

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