Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pope-A-Dope Politics

Fellow blogger Michael Swartz weighed in on recent GOP missteps on Monoblogue. You can read what he wrote here.

Swartz’s piece was especially interesting to me because of the following excerpt:

“In my original version of this post, I noted I had not yet spoken with Diana Waterman; however, I did speak to her briefly and candidly earlier tonight at the Wicomico County Lincoln Day Dinner. 
“In essence, Waterman told me the reasons she selected Louis Pope to be on the Rules Committee were simple: his experience in the national party on that committee and the length of tenure. It was a matter of ‘continuity,’ Diana said. From what I gathered, she wanted Nicolee to focus on other aspects in the state party.”

Now, someone is going to have to explain to me the virtue of “continuity” in a minority party whose electoral fortunes are as dismal as those of the MDGOP. Nonetheless, in light of what Waterman told Swartz, I thought it might be useful to review Louis Pope’s “experience” representing Maryland on the RNC, specifically as pertains to his biggest assignment to date.

On June 29, 2010, then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele announced that he had appointed Pope Treasurer of the Committee on Arrangements (COA), the entity charged with planning the GOP’s 2012 convention in Tampa, Florida. In the statement announcing the appointment, Steele praised Pope as, “a conscientious steward of donor money while serving as Chairman of the RNC Budget Committee,” adding that, “his exceptional qualifications will help make the Republican National Convention in Tampa a huge success.”

In hindsight, that was perhaps the high point of Pope’s brief, unhappy service as convention treasurer.

By fall 2010, multiple news sources started to report that the staff planning the convention were spending money at an alarming rate. According to the Washington Post, by September 2010, spending topped $636,800 according to FEC filings - 18 times the amount spent in a comparable period four years earlier.

The activities and hiring decisions of Belinda Cook, a former aide to Democratic Maryland State Senator Leo Green and longtime Steele crony who was serving in the newly-created position of “Convention Liaison,” drew special scrutiny. Despite having no event planning experience, Cook was earning $15,000 a month in salary on top of a $25,000 signing bonus. She had also hired relatives and friends for most of the convention staff positions, and the oceanfront mansion she rented for herself accounted for more than half the money the RNC spent on convention-related rent expenses during the third quarter of 2010.

Now, I worked on the 2000 convention in Philadelphia, so I have a unique perspective on these matters. By the time I arrived in Philadelphia in March 2000, the convention already had a manager (Chip DiPaula), a deputy convention manager (Maxene Fernstrom), and two co-chairs (RNC members Jan Larimer and Alec Poitevint) in place.

So, I was especially intrigued when I came across the following tidbit in the Post story:

“The Committee on Arrangements has neither a chairman nor broad membership. The only member is Louis M. Pope, the Republican National committeeman from Maryland, whom Steele appointed last summer as treasurer.”
So, in other words, at the time Cook and her clan were cleaning out the convention’s coffers, Louis Pope was the Committee on Arrangements.

In light of the broad criticism of the profligacy occurring in Tampa, Pope was compelled to issue a memo justifying all this spending.  According to a December 1, 2010 report in the Daily Caller:

“To show that the current spending levels are normal and, indeed, ‘less at the same stage’ as in 2008, Pope compares spending on the 2008 convention over a 10-month period to spending on the 2012 convention over a five month period. 
“Specifically, a chart lists spending from January 2007 to October 2007, 10 months, as compared to August 2010 to January 2011, five months, including two months that have not yet passed. 
“In the 10-month period in 2007, the Committee on Arrangements spent $1.8 million, while in the five-month period in 2010, the Committee on Arrangements spent $784,386. In making the case that the RNC is spending ‘less at the same stage’ in their letter, Cook, Pope and Holly Hughes, the chair of the Site Selection Committee, note that one 'area of greater expense is in legal bills, and that is because so many hotel and venue contracts have been negotiated and signed much earlier.' 
“Specifically, so far Steele’s convention managers have spent more than double on legal bills in the five-month period than over the 10-month period in 2007. The amount in 2012 is $210,000. One Republican source called TheDC unprompted early Wednesday in wonderment at that figure.
“There’s no way in hell there’s that much paperwork,” the source said. 
“The letter from Cook, Pope and Hughes says ‘The COA currently has just six people on staff, including interns.’ In FEC filings, two staff are listed receiving ‘intern stipends.’ One, Cory Sprunger, is receiving modest pay in line with typical stipend amounts for interns in political jobs. The other, Cook’s niece Pamela Kesner, was paid at a rate in September equating to a salary of $50,852. 
“The letter from Cook, Pope and Hughes notes that Republican donors should fear not, because ultimately, it will be taxpayers who foot the bill for the waterfront mansion and $50k-a-year intern niece. 
“Noting that expenses have been paid from a $1 million credit line, the letter says the Committee on Arrangements will ‘pay back that $1MM line of credit in full, next summer when the COA receives the roughly $16 million in federal funds provided to fund both the Republican and Democrat 2012 Conventions.’”

It seems to me that the “ultimately we’re only wasting taxpayers’ dollars, not RNC donor dollars” argument isn’t likely to resonate with too many Republicans.

Well, we all know what happened next.

Reince Priebus defeated Michael Steele for the RNC chairmanship on January 16, 2011. His first order of business was to clean house in Tampa. Cook and her relatives were fired that very night, and Pope was promptly replaced as COA Treasurer with RNC member Tony Parker.

Priebus announced the full membership of the COA on March 29, 2011. Pope wasn’t even allowed to remain as Maryland’s designed COA member, having been replaced by then-National Committeewoman Joyce Tehres. Interestingly, if you go to Pope’s biography on the RNC website, no mention is made of his embarrassing tenure as treasurer of the 2012 convention.

So, was this the “experience” Diana Waterman was thinking of when she decided to replace Ambrose with Pope on the RNC’s Rules Committee? If so, then she clearly lacks the substance to serve as an effective MDGOP chairman.

When it comes to the game of politics, Diana Waterman and Louis Pope are checkers players in a chess world.

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