Guest Column

After Fundraising Scandal, College Republicans Brace for Contested Election

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 the elderly.

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 both counts.

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 release. 

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 difference.

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.
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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 Lincolnton, 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 John.Plecnik@law.duke.edu.