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The party's over for RNC head Michael Steele

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Questions of impropriety also have been raised about Steele's book tour and speaking calendar, both personally profitable distractions on party time. Although Steele has broken no committee rules in accepting speaking fees of up to $20,000, many have criticized him for trading on his chairmanship. Giving speeches without pay is part of a party leader's job description, along with raising money for candidates.

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Steele has a relatively poor record in this department, too. A Politico analysis comparing Steele's fundraising and spending to that in 2005, the last comparable year before a midterm election, suggests too much expense for too little gain.

When he assumed the chairmanship, Steele inherited a $23 million surplus. Through late last month, he had raised $10 million less and spent $10 million more than the party did in 2005. Much of the spending has gone for private jets, limos, Ritz-Carltons and Wolfgang Puck-catered dinners. While big donors and committee members sup on ahi tuna cones, bubbacrats and Tea Partyers hear: "Let them eat catfish."

In January, the RNC spent $9 million of its $10 million monthly haul, much of it on its annual winter meeting in Hawaii. Keeping a buck out of every 10 is probably not inspiring confidence in donors, who are beginning to put their money elsewhere.

A couple of organizations that are benefiting and that may make Steele less relevant are the Republican Governors Association, run by former RNC chair and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, run by Texas Sen. John Cornyn.

Steele's future, meanwhile, is probably and strangely secure. To terminate the chairman, which has never been done before, 16 states have to call a meeting, followed by a two-thirds vote of committee members. And, of course, the hardest and least likely part among the humility-challenged: admitting they made a mistake.

Oh, go ahead. You'll feel better.

kathleenparker@washpost.com


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