This June, the College Republican National Committee will hold its elections. And delegates will face a clear choice for chairman: Paul Gourley, of the incumbent CRNC administration, or Michael Davidson, California College Republicans chairman.
Gourley, as treasurer under current CRNC Chair Eric Hoplin, allegedly oversaw a series of CRNC fund-raising scandals, most notably a direct mail campaign designed to confuse and bilk senior citizens out of their money. During the 2004 election cycle, the CRNC, through its direct mail firm Response Dynamics (RDI), garnered over $6.3 million by sending misleading letters to elderly donors. The letters often included the headings "Republican Headquarters 2004," "Republican Elections Committee," and the "National Republican Campaign Fund." During the election cycle, the median age of 49 of the top 50 donors to the CRNC was 85, and 14 of the donors were older than 90.
Gourley lent his signature to the direct mail campaign knowing that "these letters were the darkest part of our contractual obligation with RDI," but he now claims that by doing so, he was putting "the interest of the College Republican National Committee above my own." One particularly egregious letter had Gourley supplicating for cash, misleading donors by explaining that for a sum of $1,000, a small American flag lapel pin would be given to President Bush to wear during his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.
Calls to Gourley's spokesman Jake Grassel were not returned.
Davidson, meanwhile, has entered the fray. A University of California at Berkeley graduate, Davidson has been calling for CRNC reform for months, vowing to make fund-raising practices more open and accountable. "All fund-raising activities, invitations, and letters shall be posted to a secure section of the website where members of the National Board can access and read them," Davidson pledges on his website, www.yourcrnc.org.
Davidson emphasized to me that he's not making fund-raising reform the main issue of his campaign. "My main goal is building the foundation of the organization to equip the next generation of Republican leadership with the tools and resources it needs to succeed," he said.
Still, the largest issue looming is the fund-raising scandals. President Bush has made Social Security reform his top priority; the front page of the CRNC website urges members to "make sure that College Republicans are leading the fight for Social Security reform on our college campuses and in our communities." How could Gourley ever push this issue when he can't even convincingly claim concern for the senior community? His signature looms large on the bottom of those fund-raising letters.
Davidson's calls for open debate have gone unanswered. He has repeatedly asked Gourley to debate him on the issues at state conventions around the country, and Gourley has repeatedly denied or ignored such requests. Gourley insists that open debate must be held off until the CRNC National Convention in June: "I propose that we debate in front of every state chairman, every national delegate and more than a thousand College Republicans at the National Convention in June." This is a ridiculous proposal; it would prevent delegates from making their decisions until the last moment. Many delegates will have already made their decisions by this time -- a debate at this point will be meaningless. As Davidson put it in his reply to Gourley, holding a debate at the convention "is the equivalent of holding a debate on Election Day."
In politics, there are only two reasons to avoid a debate with your opponent. The first reason is that you don't want to give your opponent greater legitimacy than he deserves. That's why President Bush would probably decline to debate Ralph Nader, for example. That clearly isn't the case here; Gourley and Davidson are involved in a political brawl, and at this point, it appears that Davidson has the upper hand.
The second reason you don't debate is if you're afraid. Clearly, Gourley has something to fear here. So far, the charges against him have been aired by the media, but he has not been forced to directly confront them. In a debate setting, it is unimaginable that he would not be expected to answer some tough questions.
Here's the bottom line: The CRNC needs some fresh faces. Current CRNC leadership has been tarnished by these fund-raising scandals, and with College Republicans finally beginning to win the war on campus and turn the corner in terms of youth recruiting, the CRNC must avoid being bogged down by scandalous allegations.