RNC Chief of Staff Ken McKay resigns

By Philip Rucker and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Republican National Committee's chief of staff resigned under pressure Monday, which Chairman Michael S. Steele described as an effort to reassure wavering donors in the wake of a controversy over its most recent expense accounting.

The resignation of Ken McKay, Steele's highest-ranking aide, is the most drastic in a series of attempts at damage control by the RNC after it was revealed March 29 that the committee had spent $1,900 to entertain young donors at a risqué West Hollywood nightclub. The staff member who authorized the expenditure was fired last week, and the RNC has implemented new spending accountability procedures.

"The members of the Republican National Committee entrusted myself and every staffer to lead the loyal opposition against the destructive Obama agenda, build a stronger Republican Party and win elections," Steele said in a statement. "This is a role I take with the utmost seriousness. With this in mind, I want to do everything in my power to ensure that the committee uses all its resources in the best possible fashion."

But in a blow to Steele, the political consulting firm that had long aided his political career and was advising him at the RNC said Monday night that it had severed ties with the national party after McKay's ouster.

"Given our firm's commitments to campaigns all over the country, we have concluded it is best for us to step away from our advisory role at the RNC," said Curt Anderson, a partner at On Message. "We have high personal regard for the chairman and always have. We wish him well."

RNC officials have worked to distance Steele from the nightclub story, insisting not only that was he not at the club but also that he had no knowledge of the expenditure. McKay, whom Steele hired, will be replaced by Deputy Chief of Staff Mike Leavitt, a Steele loyalist and longtime party operative who ran Steele's unsuccessful Senate campaign in Maryland in 2006 and worked at the RNC with Robert F. McDonnell's winning Virginia gubernatorial campaign last year.

Some leading Republican strategists said the turnover will not be enough to quell the growing concerns among GOP donors and establishment figures about Steele's leadership and his record of spending. Ed Rogers, a prominent party strategist, said it is "absolutely not" enough to calm donors, and he suggested that problems with "sloppy management" at the RNC cannot be solved unless Steele leaves.

"This is a terrible way to deal with the cleanup of the mismanagement," Rogers said. "There's no single gesture or single slaughter or sacrifice that will fix that problem. That problem, for the rest of his tenure, will be managed, not solved."

The only people who can remove Steele, however, are the 168 committee members who elected him. It would require a two-thirds majority vote to remove the chairman, whose two-year term expires in January. No committee member has issued a public call for Steele's resignation.

Most of the members are volunteer party activists who live outside the Beltway and are largely engrossed in primary elections and local matters in their states. Unlike Republican strategists in Washington or the party's congressional leaders, RNC members are less in tune with the details or scope of the evolving controversies -- the string of gaffes, confrontations with congressional leaders and record of lavish spending -- that have enveloped Steele's tenure.

"I'm just focused on winning here in South Carolina," said Glenn McCall, an RNC member from that state. "We have our gubernatorial races, lieutenant governor and all of our constitutional offices, Senator [Jim] DeMint's reelection."

McCall acknowledged that he has not closely followed the news of the nightclub expenditure. "I just want Steele and the RNC to continue focusing on winning," he said.

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