Steele off to rocky start at RNC

Michael Steele, recently elected as the new chairman of the Republican Party, has already been hit by scandal.

By Alex Koppelman

Published February 9, 2009 4:30PM (EST)

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was in his new post for less than a week before his first scandal broke. Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that the man who was Steele's finance chairman during his 2006 Senate race has told federal prosecutors about alleged campaign finance improprieties, among other things that Steele had his campaign pay more than $35,000 to his sister's company for work that was never performed.

The man making the allegations, Alan Fabian, is himself facing federal charges; he brought up the claims during plea negotiations.

"The Washington Post ought to be ashamed of itself for getting out in front of something without all the facts," Steele told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. "We're being very proactive about this, because I'm sick and tired of this -- this 'gotcha' business that the Washington Post and other -- others in the media attempt to engage in."

Interestingly, much of the information the Post obtained it got because the U.S. Attorney's Office handling the case accidentally sent the paper a sealed defense memorandum rather than the prosecution document that a reporter had requested. Over at the Corner, one of the National Review's blogs, Steve Hayward used this tidbit in a post in which he rushed to Steele's defense, writing:

Inadvertently sent what was supposed to be a sealed document to the Post? Yeah, sure, and the Post will sell you the Brooklyn Bridge real cheap, too.

Is anyone in the U.S. Attorney's office going to lose their job over this? Will the Obama DOJ launch an investigation to make sure this wasn't politically motivated? What would the Post and others have said if this had happened to, say, Howard Dean, during the Bush administration?

A little background research before posting would have been helpful, though -- the U.S. attorney in question was appointed in 2005 by then-President Bush.

All of this goes to what I wrote when Steele was first elected as head of the RNC. Politically, he was probably the best choice of any of the candidates. But there are big questions about his competence, his lack of experience winning elections or holding elected office and his history of money troubles. As my friend Steve Benen writes, he didn't exactly distinguish himself talking about the economy and the stimulus on Sunday, either.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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