New GOP chairman says 2012 convention in Tampa is on track
TAMPA — Two weeks after firing the party’s local advance team, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee says arrangements for the GOP’s 2012 national convention in Tampa are on track.
“I’ve met with the leaders of the Host Committee this morning, and I’ve got to tell you, they’re doing a fantastic job here in Tampa and the entire Tampa Bay area in ensuring that Florida and this area has a world-class convention, and they’re well on their way to doing that,” RNC chairman Reince Priebus said Wednesday.
The former chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, Priebus defeated former RNC chairman Michael Steele and four other candidates to become national chairman at a party election Jan. 14.
In the wake of complaints about excessive spending by Steele’s advance team in Tampa, Priebus dismissed Steele’s paid employees within 48 hours so he could put his own people in place.
On Wednesday, Priebus named Alec Poitevint, a businessman and Georgia national committeeman, as the new chairman of the RNC’s convention-planning arm, which is known as the Committee on Arrangements and which is separate from the local Host Committee.
“At the end of the day, it was something that needed to happen and it will move us toward doing the nuts and bolts of putting on a functional and operational side on the RNC side of putting on this convention,” Priebus said.
Priebus said he also wanted a team that had more experience putting on conventions. The RNC has about a half-dozen staffers working on the convention out of donated office space in downtown Tampa, but Steele’s management of the effort had fueled opposition to his re-election.
“Our members of the RNC were very concerned about the spending that had gone on by certain members of the staff,” said Priebus, who won the chairmanship promising more accountability and a focus on raising money.
For example, Steele hired his former assistant, Belinda Cook, for $15,000 per month. She spent thousands of dollars renting a 3,200-square-foot waterfront Treasure Island home.
Through September, the committee on arrangements, had already spent $636,000. Cook had said much of the early spending was on legal bills for hotel and venue contracts executed earlier than in prior conventions.
The RNC now has attorneys scrutinizing that spending, but Priebus would not say what actions the committee would take if it found expenditures that it deemed to be inappropriate.
The committee on arrangements, funded with a federal grant of about $18 million, operates separately from the Tampa host committee, which is working to raise $50 million.
Al Austin, the co-chairman of the Host Committee, said fundraising for the event is on track, though he declined to give a total of what’s raised so far. He anticipated that about half of the total would be raised inside Florida.
Austin also welcomed the changes Priebus made, saying that the original committee on arrangements “started off on the wrong track” and “it was obvious to some of us” that some of its spending was inappropriate.
Austin touted the convention, Florida’s first since 1972, as a huge economic development opportunity that would bring business leaders from throughout the country to Tampa Bay.
“We have a great secret here,” he said of the bay area, “but it won’t be a secret after they all see it.”