By John T. Plecnik
As our nation gets used to the idea of Howard Dean serving as Chairman of
the Democratic National Committee, another national, political organization
is looking for leadership. The College Republican National Committee (CRNC)
is preparing to host elections during its 56th biennial convention in
Arlington, V.A. From June 24-26, the most influential members of the
College Republicans will join their elder cousins in the GOP for a massive
rally and election. Every national office, from Chairman to Treasurer, is
up for grabs.
For anyone foolish enough to write off the CRNC as child’s play, consider
the millions of dollars they’ve raised, their paid staff and army of
volunteers. Even the White House keeps an eye on their favorite students.
The elections for national office are no game, and some candidates are
expected to raise thousands of dollars for their campaigns.
Ironically, all this money might be our biggest problem. While various
factions jockey for position, the infamous fundraising scandal of last fall
remains, pardon the pun, the elephant in the room.
2004 was a rough ride for the College Republicans. The biggest election of
our lifetimes was taking place, and everyone needed volunteers. Nationwide,
College Republicans knocked on doors, made calls, and registered voters.
However, in the midst of our success and hard work, several newspapers, led
by the Seattle Times and Durham Herald-Sun, began to trumpet a misstep by
the CRNC. According to their reports, the independent 527 was conducting a
multimillion dollar fundraising campaign that preyed on the elderly.
In fairness, there was some substance to the story. The most controversial
fundraising transpired through a direct-mail program run by Virginia-based
Response Dynamics, Inc. Complaints were twofold: critics alleged that (1)
CRNC fundraising letters were deceptive and (2) disproportionately targeted
I have since gotten a hold of the most infamous of Response Dynamics’
fundraising letters. If anything, the account which appeared in the
Washington Post was too kind. The mailer begins, in bold uppercase
lettering, as follows: “I AM SENDING YOU THE ENCLOSED AMERICAN FLAG LAPEL
PIN, BUT IT IS NOT YOURS TO KEEP. YOU SEE, I AM ASKING YOU TO GIVE THIS
SPECIAL LAPEL PIN TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH FOR HIM TO WEAR AT THE
REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION…” It continues, “I HAVE GONE TO EXTREME
LENGTHS TO PUT THIS SIMPLE LAPEL PIN INTO YOUR HANDS. BECAUSE YOU HAVE BEEN
SUCH A PATRIOT…I WANTED TO GIVE YOU A SPECIAL PLACE IN HISTORY.” The letter
ends imploring, “BE SURE TO INCLUDE YOUR GENEROUS $1000 CONTRIBUTION TO
REPUBLICAN HEADQUARTERS WHEN YOU RETURN THE LAPEL PIN.” Like most of the
fundraising letters, it bears the signature of CRNC Treasurer Paul Gourley.
Critics justifiably noted how the terminology, “Republican Headquarters,”
implied that donations went directly to the Republican Party, instead of the
CRNC. However, my beef with the letter is far simpler. Whoever drafted
this mailer knew darn well that President Bush had his own lapel pin for
convention night. I hate dishonesty, and frankly, this is something I would
expect from the likes of Terry McAuliffe.
As to the question of whether the mailers targeted the ‘greatest
generation,’ IRS records indicated that more retired persons were giving to
the CRNC than any other IRS-regulated independent political committee.
Sadly, it would seem that our “friends” in the liberal media were right on
However, contrary to the thinly veiled accusations of the press, I seriously
doubt that anyone within the CRNC intentionally started this mess; Response
Dynamics was aggressive and poorly supervised. Yet, this slipup besmirched
everyone from the CRNC on down. “It’s shameful that the College Republicans
scammed seniors for their political gain,” jabbed College Democrats of
America National President Grant Woodward, in a November 17th press
Unhappily, the scandal is far from over. My sources indicate that major
news organizations continue to investigate various aspects of the CRNC’s
fundraising activities. There is more to come.
With these storm clouds on the horizon, two College Republicans have begun
calling state leaders to ask for their support in the contest for National
Chairman. California State Chairman Michael Davidson and CRNC Treasurer
Paul Gourley have both expressed their intentions to run. Rumor has it that
New York State Chairman Dan Centinello has not ruled out the possibility of
throwing his hat in the ring. When the fundraising scandal broke last fall,
Centinello was the most critical and outspoken of the fifty state chairs.
My advice to all concerned: look to the Tar Heel state. When our current
state leadership took office, they failed to promise us millions of dollars
or professional fundraising. Instead, the North Carolina Federation vowed
to double its number of active clubs; we began with 15, and now boast over
30. Our membership grew by 2,000 to nearly 5,000 in total. We generated
national and international press by staging “flip-flop” protests whenever
Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards came to town. In 2004, we made a
Whether popular State Chair or CRNC incumbent, our next fearless leader must
remember that true College Republicans embody the politics of selfless
volunteerism. Dirty dollars have nothing to do with it.
John T. Plecnik (JTP), a member of the Duke College Republicans, is a
21-year-old law student at Duke
University and a Featured Columnist
at The Conservative Voice (www.theconservativevoice.com),
Lincoln Tribune, a weekly newspaper in
N.C., and various other online and
print publications. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting with a Minor
in Mythology and graduated summa cum laude, sharing the title of
Valedictorian, from Belmont Abbey
College. Email your comments to John at