Steele defends RNC tenure, insisting he’s not ‘irrelevant’

Holly Bailey

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele pushed back against critics of his party tenure Sunday, telling NBC's Meet the Press that he is not "irrelevant."

Steele was responding to a highly-critical Wall Street Journal column last week written by conservative pundit Fred Barnes, which attacked the GOP chairman for his paltry fundraising and propensity for verbal gaffes. Barnes, echoing other GOP critics in the party, trashed Steele for being "nowhere to be seen" ahead of Election Day.

"No, I am not irrelevant," Steele told NBC, in his first Sunday morning talk show appearance in months. He defended the party's fund-raising under his watch, insisting the RNC has "smashed the records in fund-raising for a party out of power."

While he acknowledged the RNC has less cash to spend on the final push toward Election Day than the Democratic National Committee, Steele insisted it was because the party had spent money early. "We didn't stockpile the money, (like) the old RNCs would do so that they could have a good cash-on-hand at the end of the month," insisted Steele, who declined to say if he'll seek a second term as GOP chairman. "We wanted the money to go to the states. That's where it is, and come Nov. 2, you're going to see the effect of that planning."

But GOP critics say the credit for any Republican victory won't go to Steele but to other Republican groups who have been forced to step up their game amid the RNC's lackluster cash flow. That includes tens of millions of dollars in spending by outside conservative groups who have been dubbed the "shadow GOP."

Yet Steele defended that outside spending, in particular the Democrats' claim of the possibility that foreign money is being spent to influence the campaign. "No one's produced one shred of evidence that any of that's happening," Steele said.

Asked specifically if outside money is a "problem," Steele said he hadn't seen any evidence that it is, but insisted he was for disclosing donors.

"I'm absolutely all for transparency," he insisted. "I think it's an appropriate part of the system… But the law is what the law is right now. And if people are bothered by it, then the Congress needs to change it."

(Photo of Steele by John Raoux/AP)