There's more bad news for Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele today. The sometimes gaffe-prone Steele has flown under the radar recently, but ABC News has discovered that the RNC paid former chief of staff Kenneth C. McKay IV some $103,916 in severance—for barely a year of service.
McKay resigned from the committee April 5, several days after the news broke that the RNC had spent nearly $2,000 at a bondage-themed Hollywood nightclub called Voyeur, during an event entertaining members of the Young Eagles, a now-defunct group of young GOP donors. That was one of several expenses that brought the RNC under fire. The committee's finance director and deputy director were also asked to step down.
Was it worth it? Costs for Young Eagles events have counted well into the tens of thousands of dollars, to say nothing of staffing expenses. Add to that McKay's severance and the credibility the RNC lost from the incident—it suffered a rash of defections by donors to the Republican Governors Associaton and the National Republican Senatorial Committee—and the price is quite steep. In contrast, publicly available information suggests the Young Eagles pulled in well under $100,000 in donations since ramping up operations in 2007.
On the plus side, a November 2009 fundraiser at a Beverly Hills, Calif., nightclub raised around $53,000, and a fundraising PowerPoint obtained by Politico shows that only four donors had paid the full $7,500 to become Young Eagles. (Embarrassingly, however, just two of the Young Eagles' four chairs had actually given money in the year prior—and a review of donation records suggests they haven't given any more since then.)
But the expenses are steep. The RNC spent thousands on Young Eagles events for donors and prospective donors, including $9,500 for the Beverly Hills event and $20,300 for a suite at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., plus the $2,000 in expenses at Voyeur. Add to that tab McKay's $103,000 severance (which ABC reports anonymous Republican sources are calling "hush money" to prevent McKay from bad-mouthing Steele), and it paints a picture of a fundraising effort drenched in red.
Following the Voyeur revelation, the RNC first froze and then abolished the Young Eagles. Spokesman Doug Heye refused to comment on its fundraising success, other than to say that the program "has been terminated."
The death of the Young Eagles, combined with what appears to be a net financial loss, is another slap in the face for the GOP, which has tried in vain to attract the youth vote. With the exception of Ron Paul—who's far outside the party establishment—Republicans haven't had much luck. Mitt Romney tried an unorthodox scheme in which college students could keep a 10 percent cut of any money they raised for his campaign past a $1,000 minimum, but the program seemed to attract more controversy than cash.
Despite this, young voters still skewed disproportionately liberal. In the 18-to-29 age bracket, voters supported Barack Obama over John McCain by a 2–1 margin.
And Steele, when elected, promised to make the GOP the party of youth with an "off the hook" campaign to take its message to "urban-suburban hip-hop settings." But the unhappy experience with the Young Eagles suggests that could be a difficult and painful road.