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RNC ousts 2 top finance officers

Steele hopes the reorganization will help the committee rebound from a spending debacle.

May 09, 2010|By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — The Republican National Committee's ouster Friday of two top finance officials marks an attempt to rebound from a string of reports on lavish spending, including a $1,946.25 expenditure at a lesbian-theme bondage club in Los Angeles.

RNC Chief of Staff Michael Leavitt announced the reorganization of the finance department late Friday in an e-mail to committee members. RNC Chairman Michael Steele asked for resignations from finance director Rob Bickhart and his deputy, Debbie LeHardy, "to improve on our strong fundraising numbers" and to "help us to provide the necessary resources to defeat Democrats across the country," the e-mail said.

Bickhart will be replaced by Mary Heitman, former finance director of the Republican Governors Assn. and RNC deputy finance director under former Chairman Haley Barbour.

Spending at the RNC has been a sore point for Steele for months, but the issue blew up in late March when finance reports showed the committee reimbursed a donor for a night out at Voyeur, a West Hollywood nightclub that features performers in bondage and sadomasochistic scenes. Some in the party's socially conservative base balked at the news and told contributors to put their money elsewhere.

Several others have left in the wake of the news, including Ken McKay, then chief of staff, longtime Steele advisor Curt Anderson and Allison Meyers, an aide who submitted the club expense for payment.

But the bondage club debacle wasn't Bickhart's only public mishap. In March, a controversial PowerPoint presentation used in fundraising was obtained by Politico. The slideshow depicted President Obama as the Joker, called RNC donors "ego-driven" and described the party's 2010 election strategy as using "fear" of socialism.

As the RNC works to restore donor confidence, several prominent GOP figures, including Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, have been building a network of political committees and advocacy groups. Those groups are offering tough competition for the RNC, typically the party's top fundraiser.

"We are well-positioned for victory this fall and look forward to working with Mary to continue to improve upon our strong fundraising numbers and provide the support necessary to win elections," Steele said in a statement.

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