Michigan’s state GOP chairman is first to announce for RNC chairman — an iffy proposition for someone with a losing record.
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TAS interviewed a sampling of legislators within Michigan and few are as enthusiastic, particularly about taking on a national leadership role. “The scoreboard doesn’t lie,” said one. “If the Detroit Lions needed a new head coach, they wouldn’t go looking for a college coach with a losing record.” Another described Anuzis as “a conventional wisdom guy.” One legislator did praise him for being accessible, capable, and very intelligent, crediting him with at least maintaining the Republican majority within the State Senate.
The Michigan GOP chair himself might think he hasn’t done so well. He was on record as recently as September saying that his top priority was getting a Republican governor elected in 2010. He was also planning to run for reelection in his current position. Either he thinks he’s done so well that he’s shifting his priorities, or, as Jerry Zandstra has suggested, he could be afraid he might lose.
MONEY HAS ALSO been a problem for the Michigan GOP. When McCain announced his pull-out from Michigan, the Detroit News reported that on October 15th the state GOP fund for assisting federal candidates was just $860,000. The Democratic Party had $3.5 million.
When asked about
drawing on a line of credit in order to keep the lights on
throughout an off year, Anuzis tells me that this is common
practice among state parties. Yet speaking to another party
chairman (who was not aware I was referring to Michigan) made it
clear that while it’s not unusual, it’s typically a sign of
financial distress, especially in an off-year. He noted that such
financial problems are likely the consequence of holding on to
campaign staff for too long.
Last April, the Michigan party’s 14th Congressional District Chairman, Bill Beddoes, told the Detroit News that he was particularly concerned.
“Basically, we’re close to a quarter of a million dollars in debt, and this should be a time we’re raising money and not spending it,” he said. The party spokesman responded that it was, after all, a bad economy. But Anuzis never mentioned the economy to me in the several times I asked him why it was necessary to take out so many loans. He did say that the loans were only taken out based on pledges from donors to donate. That would indicate a reliance on a few big donors, not on steadily mounting fundraising.
Jim Duistermars, a member of the state budget committee, said in the same article that the timing was strange. “It’s not unusual for a campaign committee to take out loans,” Duistermars said. “But it usually happens when you’re ramping up to an election.”
Anuzis points to the fact that he has an independent audit done every other year. “Since I have run the party, we have never been in debt. We’ve finished every election cycle without being in debt. We get transfers from Victory programs, and those are normal, they happen all the time.”
MANY OF THE leading candidates for state GOP chair have also charged Anuzis with self-dealing. Anuzis hasn’t helped the situation. His own telecom firm, QuickConnect, has received tens of thousands of state GOP dollars in an arrangement that started prior to Anuzis’s election to state chair. The consulting shop that is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Michigan GOP is also a former employer of Anuzis’s executive director.
On the first charge, Anuzis refers to it as a “bulls—-ty accusation.” For one thing, he argues, he couldn’t cancel the contract because it was a contract that he couldn’t violate. But he is CEO of QuickConnect and chairman of the state GOP, and it is unclear under those conditions what repercussions there might have been. And despite the contract period ending, and moving on to a month to month arrangement, Anuzis maintained the relationship for several months. Anuzis now claims that QuickConnect is no longer a vendor for the state party. He explains he wasn’t even aware of this: “I don’t get involved in the day to day minutiae.”
On the second charge, he indicates there are only two political consulting firms in Michigan who can do this kind of work, and that there’s no conflict of interest.
HIS PLAN TO WIN the chairmanship position has attracted attention for being the first. And his plans certainly resonate with those frustrated by the Republican lag in grasping the real fundraising and coalition power of the web. But the 168 RNC members who will make their selections in January will be asking questions about Anuzis’s experience in implementing such plans. If they start asking, however, they’ll find quite a few critics happy to answer.
Joseph Lawler and Matthew Bishop contributed reporting to this article.
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