In battle for Republican National Committee chair, candidates clash over spending

At the center of the fight for who will control the Republican National Committee through the 2024 election is a dispute over who’s drawing money from the party and whether the expenses are appropriate in a party committee that one veteran Republican consultant coyly called a “slush fund.”

Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who is vying for a rare fourth term running the party, and California Republican committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon, her challenger, have both been paid by the party while overseeing its spending — and both have criticized each other's handling of party money.

McDaniel, the niece of Mitt Romney and a longtime trusted confidant of former President Donald Trump, collected an increased salary from the party for the past six years and had the party put her up in a luxury Washington apartment along the waterfront to the tune of more than $400,000, according to a review of campaign finance records.

“It is 100% normal and routine for the committee to pay for the reasonable monthly rent for the chairman of the RNC,” former RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in response to questions from Yahoo News sent to McDaniel’s team. “This is a topic that is not even debated on the budget committee.”

Dhillon, a veteran conservative operator who ingratiated herself with Trump as one of his lead attorneys in efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, billed the committee for a total of $1.3 million in legal work.

“It is unique to say the least. I never remember anybody making that kind of money, or close to it, who’s a member of the committee,” said an RNC committee member supporting McDaniel, of Dhillon’s legal fees. “If you’re going to live in a glass house, it’s best not to throw stones.”

After Yahoo News sent questions to Dhillon late Monday night, the RNC committeewoman responded in an email to the other RNC members Tuesday morning.

“I have been disappointed to hear that my firm’s legal work on behalf of the RNC is being used by those opposing my candidacy as a way to disparage or discredit me,” Dhillon wrote in the email obtained by Yahoo News. Dhillon argued that her firm’s fees accounted for only less than 3% of the party’s $50 million in fees paid to outside counsel.

The fight between the two will come to a head on Friday, when the 168 members of the RNC will gather to select their next chairwoman. (MyPillow executive and conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell is also running, but has not received any noticeable support despite his ardent pushing of 2020 election lies.)

It has been one of the nastiest intraparty fights in more than a decade as the GOP decides who will lead them into the 2024 election. Dhillon’s allies have accused McDaniel of virulent racism for attacks on her Sikh faith. McDaniel’s supporters have accused Dhillon of betraying McDaniel after she helped the conservative star win plum assignments on the committee.

The party chair has immense power in determining who is able to make the primary debate stage — something which proved immensely helpful to Trump in 2016 as he used primary debates to tear his opponents to shreds — and ultimately sets the rules that decide how the Republican Party picks its nominee for president.

The Republican Party chair is also responsible for raising heaps of money and then doling it out to campaigns, consultants, operatives and a slew of other pieces in the national machinery of politics — something Dhillon and her supporters have latched on to in the fight to win the chair from McDaniel.

Dhillon’s supporters have accused the party, under McDaniel’s leadership, of spending lavishly on expenses for McDaniel and committee staff, during her six years leading the party.

But the irony of the heated public debate is that McDaniel and Dhillon both approved each other’s expenses as members of the committee and never tried to block the spending before. McDaniel, as party chair, approved hiring Dhillon’s law firm and disbursing $1.3 million to the firm. And Dhillon, as a member of the party’s executive committee, reviewed the party budget — including spending on McDaniels’s posh D.C. apartment — annually and never raised an issue with it, according to Yahoo News interviews with nearly a dozen Republicans close to the fight.

Party spending has long been an issue for the GOP. In 2011, RNC members ousted former chairman Michael Steele after a raft of spending woes came to light, including news that the RNC reimbursed a staffer for an expensive night at a BDSM-style strip club in Hollywood.

Following the Steele spending woes, RNC members set new rules and guidelines on how consultants are paid by the committee. Now, more than a decade later, the members are expected to expand those ethics rules to the members themselves, potentially curbing something like Dhillon’s legal work.

But that vote won’t come until the party’s next meeting in the spring, long after the battle for chair has been decided this week.

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