On the Prowl

On the Prowl

From the April 2010 issue

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Nice RNC Work If You Can Get It

In early March, Republican National Committee finance chief Rob Bickhart became the poster boy for all that was wrong with the RNC led by former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, when it was revealed that he had been paid at least $370,000 by the RNC since last June in salary and consulting fees.

Many RNC members assumed that Bickhart was working at the RNC for a salary, but not one that included substantial fees for the fundraising he was doing for the party. Prior to his RNC post, Bickhart's most high-profile job was raising funds for Sen. Rick Santorum's failed 2006 Senate re-elect.

Bickhart's bad week in March started when Politico reported that the lead RNC fundraiser had done an amateurish strategy PowerPoint presentation at a party retreat in Boca Grande, Florida, in February, and told RNC officials and donors to use "fear" of President Barack Obama to fundraise for the party. The presentation showed images of Obama as the Joker, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Cruella DeVille, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as Scooby Doo.

"[The presentation] was an embarrassment and Bickhart's salary is outrageous," says a state party chairman, who was shown the presentation after the fact by another RNC official. "He represents everything that is wrong with the RNC right now."

At press time, Bickhart was still on the job, though RNC officials said that Steele was under intense pressure to fire him. Bickhart, according to these officials, was not even Steele's third choice for finance chief, but because the chairman had such difficulty finding a qualified fundraiser for the lead job, he ended up having to overpay.

Bickhart was only the latest embarrassment for Steele, who earlier took heat for hosting the party's winter meeting in Hawaii, for using RNC resources to promote his book on how Republicans can make a comeback, and for running up exorbitant expenses over the first year of his tenure as chairman. On at least two occasions, rumors have swirled inside RNC headquarters that Steele was in danger of losing his job, but, in part thanks to being able to fundraise off the extremism coming out of the Obama White House and Congress, the party has been able to increase its fundraising.

It isn't just fundraisers who are getting paid big bucks over at the RNC. With the importance of online fundraising and social networking, new media consultants are also said to be earning $10,000 to $15,000 a month in fees from the national party.

Overconfidence?

Owing to his personality, energy, and conservative values, Florida Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio has become one of the darlings of the conservative movement for 2010's election cycle, particularly when held up against his competitor for the nomination, moderate Gov. Charlie Crist.

But some conservatives in Florida think Rubio, who has seen his fundraising and endorsements increase as more conservatives from around the country have rallied to him, could be doing a better job campaigning.

"My concern is that he's taking some things for granted," says a longtime Republican operative in Florida. "He's not working the churches and community centers and some of the grassroots the way a hungry young politician should."

Further fueling the concerns were Rubio's confident discussions with some conservatives in Washington, where he talked about which Senate committees he expected he'd be assigned upon winning the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mel Martinez.

Legal Services Inc.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee want staff to look into the operations of the Department of Justice's National Security Division, which houses the little-known Law and Policy Office. The NSD, parts of which had previously resided inside the Criminal Division, also houses an Office of Intelligence Policy and Review.

"For a number of lawyers looking to influence anti-terrorism policy, this was the office to get into," says a current Justice political appointee. "But it's comparatively a small staff, and most of us have no interaction with them, given the security issues they deal with."

A great deal of focus is now on the NSD, in part because of Sen. Chuck Grassley's requests for the names and positions of all Obama Department of Justice attorneys who prior to joining the administration worked directly or indirectly for suspected terrorists or enemy combatants.

One of those names was Jennifer Daskal, who is now a staffer on the NSD and who served as a senior counsel for Human Rights Watch before joining the administration. Daskal was involved in a number of lawsuits on behalf of enemy combatants and terrorists held in offshore secure facilities.

"Very little is known about the NSD, who works there, and how they operate within the department," says a Republican Senate Judiciary staffer. "It's a relatively new operation, so it's time to start looking at what it does."

Borderline Politics

Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate are shocked that the White House Office of Legislative Affairs is encouraging Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to develop the legislative blueprint for an immigration reform bill, which the administration might ask Congress to take up later this year.

"The White House has managed to kill the congressional careers of perhaps as many as 50 Democrats, and now it wants a few more scalps for the fall election cycle?" says one Democratic House member. "None of us wants to touch another hot-button issue until January 2011."

Netflits

In February, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a speech in Washington about the need to ensure freedom reigned on the Internet. At the time, the speech was viewed as a broadside against the governments of Iran and China, which had been heavily censoring online activities.

That may have been the case, but now officials at the State Department are looking at global treaty models that could be used for a kind of "Internet Free Speech Treaty," which would give an institution like the United Nations some role in monitoring governments' censoring activities of the Internet.

"It's just another example of how far this administration wants to go to get government involved in the Internet," says a former Bush administration official who worked on Internet issues at the Department of Commerce. "The United States invented the Internet, we've managed it, and it's worked just fine. There is no need to hand it over to the UN so it can screw it up

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