WASHINGTON – Republican Party chairman Michael Steele defended his stewardship of party affairs Monday and dismissed criticism as the talk of GOP figures uncomfortable with his "streetwise" managerial style.
Asked in a nationally broadcast interview if he would step down in the face of criticism of the party's financial management, Steele replied, "No." He said some had been second-guessing him "since the day that I got the job."
Steele, however, acknowledged controversy over the $2,000 the party spent recently for a party at a sex-themed Hollywood nightclub, but said that "when I first heard about this behavior, I was very angry."
Two top congressional Republicans said Sunday the RNC must be held accountable for the way it uses the money it raises in light of much-criticized Hollywood outing. "This kind of thing has got to stop or they won't get any contributions," said Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.
Kyl and Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, who is leading the GOP effort to recruit candidates and elect House members, distanced themselves from Steele when discussing the committee's controversial spending.
Steele had already come under fire for committee spending on flights, limousines and high-end hotels, but he was not present at the Voyeur Hollywood West on Jan. 31 when a group of young Republicans ran a tab picked up by the RNC.
After reporters noted the bill in a funding report, the RNC fired a staffer it blamed for the outing and said it would be reimbursed by a donor who had attended.
Asked on "Fox News Sunday" if Steele should step down, Kyl demurred but said, "The people that contribute to the committees, both Democrat and Republican, want to know that their money is well spent for the cause, and it needs to be that way."
Appearing Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America," Steele said he had a budget with $8 million left after the 2009 elections, contests which saw the GOP score victories in gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia and in a special U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts.
"I hear our base out there," Steele said. "I hear the leadership. and we're taking steps to make sure that we're even more, how shall we say, fiscally conservative." But he also attributed his problem to "unnamed Republicans who don't like me."
Steele was asked if he felt he has a smaller margin of error than others because he's black.
"The honest answer is yes. It just is," the former Maryland lieutenant governor said. "Barack Obama has a slimmer margin than others."
"But you take that as part of the nature of it," Steele added. "It's more because you're not somebody they know. ... Not old-boy network oriented. ... My view on politics is much more grassroots oriented ... so I tend to, you know, come at it a little bit stronger, a little bit more street-wise. That's rubbed some feathers the wrong way."
Even as Steele and the national committee are being criticized for lavish spending habits, Steele has hired a special finance assistant who himself was fined by the District of Columbia three years ago for improperly spending money from a political action committee, according to published reports. The special assistant, Neil Alpert, will help with fundraising, The Washington Post reported Monday.
The Post, and a report Sunday by AOL's Politics Daily, said that in 2007, the District's Office of Campaign Finance found that Alpert improperly spent $37,670 on items not authorized by the D.C. Baseball PAC, which he chaired, or the D.C. Baseball Association, a nonprofit group the PAC created to raise money for youth programs. Alpert was asked to reimburse the groups, which were later dissolved after Major League Baseball authorized a Washington franchise. He was fined $4,000.