Republican with Iowa ties quits RNC job, slams Steele

Michael Steele’s term as chairman of the Republican National Committee expires in January. Although staffing and fundraising problems have marked his tenure in the job, Steele hasn’t ruled out seeking another two years in the position.

That won’t happen if the departing RNC political director Gentry Collins has anything to say about it. Jonathan Martin got hold of the resignation letter Collins sent to Steele and the RNC’s executive committee. Rarely have I heard of an employee denouncing the boss in such a devastating way. Excerpts and background on Collins are after the jump.

UPDATE: Scroll to the bottom for some reactions to Collins’ letter.

Collins must have been extremely frustrated during his 20 months as RNC political director. According to Martin’s story for Politico,

In a four-page letter to Steele and the RNC’s executive committee obtained by POLITICO, Collins lays out inside details, previously only whispered, about the disorganization that plagues the party. He asserts that the RNC’s financial shortcomings limited GOP gains this year and reveals that the committee is deeply in debt entering the 2012 presidential election cycle.

“In the previous two non-presidential cycles, the RNC carried over $4.8 million and $3.1 million respectively in cash reserve balances into the presidential cycles,” Collins writes, underlining his words for emphasis. “In stark contrast, we enter the 2012 presidential cycle with 100% of the RNC’s $15 million in lines of credit tapped out, and unpaid bills likely to add millions to that debt.”

The short version of the RNC’s 2010 troubles as described by Collins: The committee couldn’t afford to run an independent expenditure ad campaign on behalf of their candidates, didn’t fund a paid voter turnout operation for Senate and gubernatorial races, left its vaunted 72-Hour turnout program effectively unfunded, offered only a fraction of the direct-to-candidate financial contributions they made four years ago and dramatically scaled back its support of state parties.

Given how badly Democrats just got beaten in most parts of the country, it is frightening to think how 2010 might have gone if the RNC had had the resources it spent in the two previous midterm elections. More from Collins:

“In the last two non-presidential cycles of 2002 and 2006, the RNC raised $284 million and $243 million respectively,” he writes, without noting Republicans held the White House in those two campaigns. “So far this cycle, the RNC has reported raising just $170 million. Less than $18 million (10.53%) of that total came from contributions of $1,000 or more, collected from a mere 5,379 donors. This is a fraction of either the previous cycles.”

Of the $170 million raised to date, Collins points out that much of it came from low-dollar donors giving online and in the mail, suggesting Steele can’t claim credit for it.

“These contributions do not result from personal solicitation by the Chairman but, like other macro-political trends, are reflective of the anti-Obama/Pelosi/Reid wave that drove energy and intensity to historic highs this cycle,” Collins writes.

Stick a fork in Steele–he’s done. Iowa’s representatives on the RNC didn’t want him in the first place.

Collins himself may run for RNC chairman, Chris Cillizza reported today, citing “three sources familiar with his thinking.” If he got the job, he would be the fifth Iowan to head the national Republican Party. The last was Mary Louise Smith, a pro-choice moderate who served from 1974 to 1977.

Iowa State graduate Collins has deep roots in this state’s GOP establishment. Before working for the McCain campaign during the 2008 general election,

Collins served as Mitt Romney’s Iowa state director for the 2008 Iowa caucuses, served as the executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa, managed Doug Gross’ 2002 gubernatorial campaign, and worked as a legislative aide to State Representative Christopher Rants.

RNC members from all 50 states will elect Steele’s successor, and I’m not convinced they will pick someone so closely connected to Romney, a likely presidential candidate in 2012. The GOP may be better off with a more neutral figure as party chair. Reconnecting with major donors who rejected Steele will be an important task for the RNC during the presidential election cycle, and a lot of those donors will be backing other presidential candidates.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: At the ABC News blog, Michael Falcone and Jonathan Karl point out some contrasts between Collins’ resignation letter and what he was saying before the election:

“The RNC is heading into the final 100 days of the campaign with the necessary resources to compete from Delaware to Hawaii,” Collins wrote in a memo dated July 20. “By the end of July, the RNC will have transferred over $2 million this year and have invested more than $20 million this cycle in state parties and party committees across the country.”

The memo, which was co-signed by RNC Finance Director Mary Heitman, assures committee members that “the RNC is prepared for the historic opportunity that exists for Republicans this fall.”

But on Tuesday, Collins abruptly quit his job at the RNC and warned party chairman Michael Steele and RNC officials in a five-page letter that the committee has “allowed its major donor base to wither,” tapped out its lines of credit and left its “vaunted 72-hour” voter turnout program “largely unfunded.”

With just under two weeks to go before Election Day, however, Collins offered an entirely different assessment with a memo titled: “31,161,123: An Unprecedented Grassroots Achievement.”

“A truly significant landmark was passed just before 9:00pm last night,” Collins wrote on Oct. 21. “At that time, a phone bank volunteer made the 31,161,123rd voter contact of the year — and Republican grassroots volunteers officially surpassed the total number of volunteer voter contacts made in 2008. […]

A portion of that message was posted on the RNC’s official blog, which also includes an Oct. 13 video in which Collins boasts about the party’s voter contact effort in key states like Colorado, Illinois, Florida and Pennsylvania.

But in his farewell letter on Tuesday, Collins complained that when it came to the party’s final 72-hour voter turnout push, “states were not given enough time to plan for” a lack of funding.

The critique stands in sharp contrast to one of dozens of tweets Collins sent out in the closing weeks of the campaign. “BIG news out of the field: RNC Victory made over 1 MILLION calls yesterday alone. Things look great going into final 72 hrs,” he wrote on Oct. 28.

Craig Robinson took a hatchet to Collins over at The Iowa Republican blog. You should read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts:

On the surface, Collins’ letter stating the inadequacies of the RNC is accurate, but where is his shared responsibility for all of this as the committee’s Political Director?  Not only did Collins hold a position of tremendous influence, he also brought with him Derek Flowers and Susan Hepworth, two operatives who worked with him on Romney’s 2008 Iowa caucus campaign.

While he belittles Steele in his letter of resignation, Collins is the one who made the decision to go to work for Steele following the 2008 election.  He also made the decision to remain as Steele’s chief political operative through all of the scandals of the past two years.

As Collins bemoans the debt that the RNC racked up, it was Collins who the RNC trusted to spend those resources, not Steele. […]

Collins’ decision to publically [sic] leak this information is as self-serving as it is unnecessary.  With the 2010 election cycle in the books, he could have quietly walked away from his post at the RNC.  It appears that his decision to turn on his boss was either a move to end the chances of Steele getting re-elected to a second term (those chances already appearing slim), or it was a move to help propel his own political career.

While Collins’ actions made waves in political circles across the country, Iowans have come to expect such behavior from him.  […]

Nobody doubts that Gentry Collins is a talented Republican strategist, but his ego combined with his vengeful style is what the American people despise about politics.

As Political Director of RPI during the 2008 Iowa caucuses, I became well versed in the heavy-handed way in which Collins operates.  Collins was always quick to pick up the phone to encourage RPI to attack McCain, who he ultimately worked for in the general election campaign, or Rudy Giuliani for skipping the Ames Straw Poll or the caucuses as a whole.  When the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll was in jeopardy because of McCain and Giuliani refusing to participate, Collins, as manager of the Romney campaign, inquired as to how much money it would take for the event to be cancelled.  Essentially, he wanted to bribe the Republican Party of Iowa not to have the straw poll so that the Romney campaign wouldn’t have to bother organizing for it.  However, when RPI criticized Romney for not participating in its FOX News debate, Collins sought revenge.

Collins threatened Ray Hoffmann, who was RPI chairman after the Party disclosed that the debate was cancelled because of Romney’s refusal to debate.  He lobbied members of the Republican Party’s State Central Committee to fire the Executive Director and Political Director a month before the caucuses. […]

After seeing Collins’ Machiavellian behavior, one has to wonder if his move to criticize Steele publically [sic] will hurt his future prospects.  Would a presidential candidate have to worry that Collins could go rouge if the campaign isn’t going as planned?  What about those who work along side of him or work for him? Will they be able to trust him, or will they worry that he will throw them under the bus if doing so will benefit him?

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