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Government, Politics & Issues

State GOP leaders meet with party's delegation to ease concerns

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 18, 2013: Missouri Republican Party chairman Ed Martin and executive director Shane Schoeller flew to Washington this week to meet privately with Missouri’s seven GOP members of Congress to lay out their party-building activities and ease some concerns about the state party's dramatic decline in donations.

“They were pleased with the direction we were headed,’’ said new state Republican Party communications director Matt Wills, who wasn’t at the meeting but was speaking on behalf of Martin and Schoeller.

Wills said the session, held Wednesday morning, was attended by all six Missouri Republicans in the U.S. House as well as U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

“I think this was the first time that we had an opportunity to meet with everybody at one time, in one place,” the party spokesman said.

The topics included “where we are social media-wise, where we are message-wise” heading into the 2014 election, Wills said.

The meeting had been sought by some of the state’s members of Congress for some time. Several Republican officials and activists have privately voiced concerns to the Beacon in recent weeks about what they feared was a lack of money-raising and too little activity by the state party aimed at energizing GOP supporters and donors, leading up to the 2014 general election.

Martin, a St. Louis lawyer and outspoken social conservative, has been under scrutiny since he was elected party chairman in January. He ousted incumbent David Cole in a three-way contest characterized by some as a battle between tea party conservatives and longstanding party insiders.

Since then, Martin has replaced much of the state Republican Party’s staff. That includes the hiring of Schoeller, a former leader in the Missouri House. Schoeller and Martin both lost statewide contests last fall; Schoeller was narrowly defeated for secretary of state, while Martin lost a bid for attorney general.

Monday’s state GOP campaign-finance report has raised some internal alarm bells because it showed that the Missouri Republican Party had collected only $7,944 since April 28.  Most of the donations were $300 or less – small for a party that often has received contributions of $25,000 or more.

That period included a private late April fundraising event in St. Louis featuring U.S. Sen . Rand Paul, R-Ky.

The report showed that the state Republican Party had spent $55,966 during the same two-month period, with $52,600 left in the bank as of June 30. That's a smaller sum than the campaign warchests of all but one of the state's Republicans in Congress.

The state Republican Party’s April report wasn’t much better, showing it had raised only $26,854 -- although that report covered only a couple weeks in late March.

In contrast, the Missouri Democratic Party – which usually trails the GOP in donations – reported raising $215,179 just since April 1. The party spent $157,009, and had $92,834 in the bank. (The state Democratic Party also reported a debt of $221,925, which party officials have said is largely due to a mortgage on a Jefferson City building that the party purchased years ago.)

Some Republicans privately note that some of their party’s traditional major donors – individuals and corporations -- have given little or no money since Martin took over, according to the campaign reports.

Heightened money-raising focus promised

Wills downplayed any financial issues and said that a number of fundraising events are planned to be held shortly.

“My check was deposited as it normally is,” said Wills, who just came on board about a month ago. His previous employment included working for the unsuccessful presidential campaign of former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. (Santorum had handily won Missouri’s presidential primary last winter.)

“Obviously, when there is a new chairman after there’s been a long chairmanship previously, there are going to be questions as to strengths and weaknesses of incoming leadership,” Wills said.

He then emphasized, “At this point, a clear path of fundraising has been established. Major donor events are getting ready to take place.”

Those events include one in Kansas City during the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference Sept. 13-15. Santorum and national Republican Party chairman Reince Preibus are among the scheduled speakers.

Wills noted that the Missouri Republican Party is the lead sponsor of the conference.

As for Wednesday’s congressional meeting, Wills indicated that Martin and Schoeller were pleased with how it turned out.

“The overall tone… was one that was very positive,” the spokesman said. The members of Congress “were just looking forward to seeing what Ed was going to put in the table” regarding the 2014 elections.

He added, “Everybody left with a good taste in their mouth as we move forward.”

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