Though Steel stressed that he did not authorize the donations, he suggested that others had a more direct hand in them. Namely, Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga and Republican donor Gerald Parsky, a friend of President Bush, were aware of the deal, Steel said. Steel has competed against Parsky and Brulte for control of the state party.
"When Gerry Parsky and Sen. Jim Brulte insisted on reforming the party last year," Steel wrote, "they promised accountability, transparency and professional conduct for the CRP.
"If the charges of circuitous money transfers are accurate," Steel added, "this obviously raises serious legal and ethical questions."
Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) would not comment directly on the 21st Century donations. But though some Republicans have said operating stealthily was in the party's interests -- Stutzman, for instance, said it helped keep rival Democrats in the dark -- Ashburn said openness was preferable.
"The public and organizations have the right to contribute as long as there is full and complete disclosure," he said.
Stutzman has refused to say who arranged the donations. Brulte has declined to discuss the matter, and Parsky also would not comment. But Brulte and his counterpart in the Assembly, GOP leader Dave Cox of Fair Oaks, took the lead last year in raising money for Republican candidates.
In an internal party memo dated Sunday, Brulte boasted of having strengthened the county committees, and vowed to continue the effort in coming years. County committees must "become more effective and efficient voter delivery systems," he said. Brulte, writing to the party's board of directors, called for more fund-raising, particularly by the state party apparatus.
"Given the fact that 2006 statewide races in addition to legislative races must be funded by the California Republican Party," Brulte said in his note to fellow party members, "it is extremely important that our leadership always have fund-raising at the top of the agenda.
"Dave Cox and I spend the vast amount of our nonlegislative time on this activity. Our leadership should too."