A modest proposal: Abolish the RNC (And the DNC, too) 

Although Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele isn't likely to view it as a silver lining, the scandal over his organization's reimbursement of a consultant for an evening of entertainment for a bevy of prospective donors at a sexual bondage-themed "club" in Los Angeles does have one good thing going for it.

The scandal and the attention it has focused on the RNC should underline the obsolescence of this organizational relic from the 19th century's golden age of political parties in America and why it should be abolished in the Internet age. Ditto for the Democratic National Committee.

(I should here disclose that during my pre-journalism career, I spent two years (1981-82) at the RNC as publications director, at the behest of Lyn Nofziger, who was then President Reagan's chief White House political advisor. Nofziger, by the way, was a former Washington newspaper reporter who taught me a great deal about how to talk to politicians and get past their incessant spinning).

For most of the 19th century and into the early 20th century, the two national committees were the organizational crowns atop their respective parties' vast nationwide infrastructures that controlled who was nominated for public office at the local, state and national levels. On the GOP side, Mark Hanna's direction from the RNC chairmanship of William McKinley's successful campaign for the White House in 1896 perhaps epitomized this era.

But with the advent of mass media, especially radio and then television, and the wider diffusion of wealth and education throughout the American middle class following World War II, the two parties' ability to function effectively as gate keepers for candidates for public office became severely weakened.

The decline of the powers of state caucuses within the presidential nominating conventions and the growth of presidential primaries further weakened the hold of the national committees on the road to the White House.

As a result, both the RNC and DNC have mainly existed since the 1960s as extensions of White House political operations when the party's man was in the Oval Office (Thus, Nofziger at the White House was able to send me to the RNC).

But as Barack Obama's Organizing for America group is beginning to demonstrate, if only tentatively and perhaps not very effectively as yet, even that function is now better performed by something other than the national party central committees.

The Internet has robbed the central party committees of their principal leverage points, control of candidacies and distribution of campaign funds. People no longer must depend primarily upon the party committees to know which candidates most deserve donor and volunteer support.

Groups like Club for Growth on the Right and Emily's List on the Left (and believe me, those two are only representative of a lengthy list of such groups across the ideological spectrum) are steadily moving the central party committees to the background as the most effective vehicles for donors interested in shaping policy directions via suitable, electable candidates.

The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision striking down the ban on corporate and union political contributions will only strengthen and expand this trend.

Then what about fund raising? Well, what about it? Sure, the RNC and the DNC soak up millions of dollars from faithful donors every election cycle, but, as seen by the growing revolt occasioned by the Voyeur Nightclub scandal, the same trends that are pushing donors to look to outside groups like Club for Growth to identify candidates are pushing them to send their dollars anywhere but to the traditional party central committees.

As for the presidential side of politcal campaign fund raising, neither the RNC nor the DNC has had anything remotely like control of such operations for decades. Had Obama depended upon the DNC instead of his own Internet-based fund raising operation, the 2008 presidential election might well have turned out differently.

Those who are absolutely determined to cling to the old ways, however, still might cite the so-called party building activities of the RNC and DNC as the sole remaining justification for keeping such dinosaurs around. But even there, donors are increasingly knowledgeable and aware that groups like Moveon.org on the Left and the various Tea Party outfits are far better at building local and state-level political organizations than either the RNC or DNC. Just ask Colorado Republicans.

Which leaves only the cadre of professional campaign consultants who operate from bases financed by the RNC and DNC. Over the years, hundreds of millions of donor dollars that could have gone directly to good GOP conservative candidates instead went to fatten up these "party pros."

So, of course, it was just such a consultant at the center of the Voyeur Nightclub scandal.

As Examiner columnist Mona Charen wrote earlier this week, Steel is a talented, smart guy whose skills just happen not to fit his present job's requirements. Steel is a perfomer not a producer. But the party doesn't have to have an RNC in order to have another performer capable of hanging with the Internet and cable media powers-that-be.

Indeed, for years, the most common complaint about the RNC outside of Washington, D.C. quite possibly has been that it has nurtured a class of Republican consultants who were little more than hired guns who couldn't care less which candidates actually won elections so long as they got paid.

It's that whiff of just such a culture of entitlement that makes the Voyeur Nightclub scandal so revealing and damaging to Steele. As Charen further wrote of the present scandal:

"This was not a first offense. Since his election as RNC chairman, Steele has indulged an appetite for luxury hotels, chartered airplanes, expensive restaurants, and a lavish redecoration of his offices. Roll Call reported that Steele spent $18,500 to redecorate his dark-paneled office. "This is gonna sound weird," he explained, but "it's way too male for me." Actually, more than anything, it sounds vain and self-indulgent. Among the new accoutrements -- a Bowflex machine.

"The Daily Caller (which broke the story of the Voyeur outing) also reported that the RNC spent $17,514 in the month of February alone for chartered airplanes, and that Steele had looked into the possibility of buying a private plane for the chairman's use.

"When he travels, Steele stays at luxury hotels like the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Four Seasons. While raising decent amounts of cash, the Republican Party under Steele has also burned through it quickly. Between July 2009 and February 2010, the GOP raised $63 million but spent $78 million, leaving the party without a solid cushion heading into the 2010 contests -- and behaving all too much like the federal government."

Need I say more? Here's the bottom line: The RNC and DNC are vestiges of the past. In the case of the RNC, it is quite literally the GOP's elephant in the living room. Somebody should speak up and state the obvious - the RNC is no longer needed, so the time has come to abolish it.

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Mark Tapscott

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