Ed. note.  Morton Blackwell is the long-serving RNC Committeeman from Virginia, first elected in Aug. 1988. 
See also his
Aug. 2, 2013 missive.

April 5, 2013

Morton Blackwell: There’s a Showdown Coming at the Next RNC Meeting

At its meeting in Los Angeles next week, the Republican National Committee will consider the repudiation of highly controversial changes to The Rules of the Republican Party made at the National Convention Rules Committee in Tampa last summer. These changes, led by Romney campaign spokesman Ben Ginsberg, were a systematic power grab which caused an unprecedented uproar at the convention.

Our Party must recruit many new grassroots conservatives in order to win future elections. Those potential recruits can be attracted only to a party where they are welcome, where power can flow from the bottom up, and where newcomers are treated fairly, politely, and even cordially.

My letter last week to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, with copies sent to RNC members, asks for his support of my motion to repudiate the Ginsberg power grabs, and it discusses the recent Growth and Opportunity Project report he issued. Below are a link to that letter and a link showing how my motion would change the rules back to the content unanimously approved by the Republican National Committee before Mr. Ginsberg’s centralizing power grab.

Morton Blackwell
Virginia Republican National Committeeman

Dear Reince,

You will recall that I have submitted a motion to be considered by the RNC to repeal all the changes which the RNC can reverse which were made by the 2012 Convention Rules Committee to the Rules of the Republican Party as forwarded to the Convention Rules Committee by unanimous vote of the RNC.

My motion would repeal all changes made by the Convention Rules Committee to Rules 1 through 11 and Rules 13 through 25.

Prepared with assistance I received from your Legal Counsel office and linked is a copy of the

Rules of the Republican Party as they would stand if my motion passed.

The power grab initiated by Ben Ginsberg at the Convention Rules Committee outraged many RNC members and millions of grassroots Republicans across the country. It caused thunderous opposition when the Convention Rules Committee report was presented to the National Convention in Tampa.

What Ben Ginsberg did was an abusive overreach which he achieved only because he represented himself (correctly) as the designated spokesman of the Romney campaign to the Convention Rules Committee. There is general agreement that his power grab was a terrible mistake. It repealed good reforms passed by the RNC Standing Committee over the previous four years and passed unanimously by the RNC the day before. It hurt the Romney presidential campaign. Ginsberg’s effort was to further centralize power in the Party and to make it more difficult for power and influence in the Party to flow from the bottom up.

What he did certainly hurt our presidential campaign in Virginia.

The wording of the new Rule 12, which he strongly supported, puts Rule 12 and Rules 26 through 42 beyond the reach of the RNC and its Standing Committee on Rules. Nevertheless, it is highly important now that the RNC immediately show grassroots conservatives unmistakably that the national Republican Party rejects what Ben Ginsberg did.

You and I have had some discussion about my motion, and I’m happy that you said you agree 100% with me. But it is not clear whether or not you support my motion. Several people have told me that you believe that minor changes to a couple of the Rules will fix the problem.

That would not work.

We must clearly demonstrate that we entirely repudiate and reverse all that we can of what Ben Ginsberg did. That precedent would strongly discourage the campaign of future presidential candidates from using their immense clout to centralize power in the Party just before national conventions. Nothing less will reassure the large numbers of grassroots conservatives that we are serious about welcoming them into participation in our Party.

Any amendment to the Rules must first pass in the Standing Committee on Rules, and then it must pass by a 75% vote of the entire 168 members of the RNC.

The influence of the RNC chairman is so powerful that no amendment to the Rules is likely without your personal support. As national chairman, you have effective control over large sums of money essential for state parties and for Republican candidates, not to mention your control over RNC hiring and other powers. Certainly no proposal you oppose could pass. Your neutrality would probably defeat any proposed amendment which is in any way controversial.

I do appreciate the fact that you told me you would support a record vote on my motion. I consider it very important that everyone knows how their representatives vote on reversing Ben Ginsberg’s power grab in Tampa.

One effect of my motion would be to restore the change passed by the 2008-2012 Standing Committee on Rules (and unanimously passed by the RNC) to provide for the election of the chairman of the RNC Committee on Resolutions, rather than fill that position by appointment of the national Party chairman.

Chairmen of the Standing Committee on Rules are elected, and election of the RNC Resolutions Committee chairman would be no great limitation of the national Party chairman’s power.

So I ask for your open, strong support of my motion when the RNC meets in April in Los Angeles.

The new Rule 12 was sloppily worded, and it would be helpful if you would let RNC members know in advance your interpretation of how it will work. On its face, Rule 12 says proposed amendments to the Rules of the Republican Party first have to pass the Standing Committee on Rules and then must pass by a 75% vote of the entire membership of the RNC.

That would seem similar to the process by which the U.S. Constitution is amended: The Congress approves an amendment, and then it goes to the state legislatures for
ratification. Before it is ratified, 75% of the states must approve an amendment, and the states may not amend in any way what the Congress has proposed.

Would you rule, contrary to the amending process for the U.S. Constitution, that the RNC could amend, by majority vote, proposed amendments to the Rules submitted by the Standing Committee on Rules for RNC approval? Would only final passage by the RNC require a 75% vote and amendments by the RNC to what the Standing Committee has proposed require only a majority vote by the RNC?

Your new, 97-page Growth and Opportunity Project report raises issues which involve possible Rules changes, so I’m going to take this opportunity to comment on that report as it regards our Rules and other important matters.

I agree that we should hold our national convention earlier. That’s a good idea, for the reasons stated in the report, but the National Committee already has the power to do that without changing the Rules.

The report suggests that we set up a system of regional presidential primaries. That would require a change in the Rules. Rotating regional primaries have been raised as a possibility several times in the past. Each time it was debated and rejected.

No one would accept letting the same region always vote first. Because of the predictable bandwagon effect, letting one region vote before the rest could have a decisive impact on the choice of our eventual nominee. Conservative Republicans wouldn’t like a system in which the Northeast states all voted first. Northeastern Republicans wouldn’t like a system in which the Southern states would vote first. This idea is a non-starter.

Other ideas in the report are very welcome, and many of them are rooted in the obvious fact that President Obama and his allies crushed Mitt Romney and his allies on the ground. I’ll list just a few of those good ideas:

1. Republicans and conservatives must get our act together on data acquisition, data analytics and use of social media. Good. We gave the left a big advantage when we allowed them to spend on these activities multiples of what we spent on them.

2. Republicans and conservatives must develop systems to personally interact with our supporters and potential supporters. Our metrics in 2012 measured voter contacts -- things such as direct mail volume, the number of phone calls made, and the number of doors knocked
on. Our opposition measured and skillfully used the results of their personal interactions with voters and potential voters. Page 36 of the new report says, “not only advocacy but personal interaction with voters.” Good.

3. Republicans and conservatives must devote much more of our resources to training volunteers, staff, candidates, and allies in the techniques they must know in order to win elections. Good. I have devoted much of my life to political training, and my conservative Leadership Institute trained more than 13,500 people in 2012. Republican organizations could recruit many more people for training than conservative, non-partisan groups can.

But party training has left much to be desired. I started my Leadership Institute’s Campaign Management School years ago because the National Committee’s campaign management training, with a faculty of hand-picked political consultants, taught that paid advertising was the key to victory and that person-to-person campaigning on the ground was old-fashioned and didn't work anymore.

4. Republicans and conservatives must ramp up our efforts to include at every level categories of people long specially targeted for absorption by the left. Good. We must seek in these categories people whose principles and interests, in net, make them more compatible with us than with the left.

5. Republicans and conservatives must start now to run a permanent campaign and not sit idle between “campaign seasons.” Good. It was no secret that Barack Obama and his allies were running a permanent campaign, but for some reason, those in control of resources on our side did little or nothing to match or surpass our opposition’s well-known, unrelenting work.

Now let me mention three of my disappointments with the Growth and Opportunity Project report.

The report was repetitive and therefore much too long. Few people, including those who should read it, will read all of it.

The report omitted what I believe to be the most important problem with Republican fundraising. The report identifies as the “single most important lesson for any fundraiser: You gotta ask.”

To that could have been added that the single most important lesson for raising net money in the long term is: You gotta treat your donors well. In general, with few exceptions, Republican committees don’t.

I teach fundraising to a great many people, and I talk to a great many donors. Republican committees routinely harass their donors. Even committed, generous donors become fed up with receiving multiple letters and phone calls every day. As a result, many donors angrily say they have sworn off contributing to Republican Party committees.

One reason for this exasperation is the financial incentive for more and more asks. Often, some fundraising consultant gets paid for every letter and every phone call. The more letters and calls, the more money the consultant gets paid. The true interest of the client Republican committee is different; it’s to maximize the long-term net money received. But as long as enough money is raised so that the client doesn’t go broke, the consultant’s incentive is to mail and mail and to call and call.

Yes, I know that one can count the money that comes in from each of the staggering number of asks made by different Republican committees to Republican donors. But one cannot count the money that will not be given in the future by donors who are turned off and never give again because of excessive, incessant requests for money by Republican Party committees.

The RNC is the most appropriate body to coordinate an effort to treat Republican donors better. I wish the Project report had focused more on this problem, a major reason for attrition from the Republican donor base.

Here’s my greatest disappointment in the report.

At the recent CPAC, before the report was released, I spoke on a panel and mentioned the Growth and Opportunity Project. I mentioned that, as an RNC member, I had participated in conference calls of RNC members to discuss the Project. I said that what I heard about the Project sounded good and predicted that the report would read well. I then cautioned the large audience that implementation of the Project was a different and much more difficult matter, and I ended by warning, “Power dies hard, and absolute power dies hardly at all.”

The topic of the panel was political consultants.

I have made no secret of the fact that I believe some political consultants have had a malign influence on Republican election results for many years. Not that many of them didn’t know what they were doing. They did.

I invite you to see a piece I wrote in 1985 and last updated in 1990. You can find it on the web by Googling “How to Stop Them from Stomping Out the Grassroots.” My remarks about consultants at CPAC included in its entirety a piece I published online November 26, 2012 in the Daily Caller, which in turn came from that original piece that I last updated in 1990. You can find that Daily Caller piece by Googling “The GOP’s Consultant Problem.”

The Growth and Opportunity Project failed to hold anyone or any set of people accountable. If no one is held accountable, the same cast of embedded characters are likely to maintain their virtual stranglehold on the campaign budgets of major campaigns and major party committees.

The Project report does say, accurately, that “Campaigns spend the bulk of their budget on advertising.” That’s true, but why such an imbalance?

It’s because consultants historically get fat commissions from paid advertising they place, but they get no commissions on campaign expenditures for precinct organization, voter registration, get-out-the-vote efforts, mass-based youth efforts, or almost anything else which falls into the category of “ground game.”

Somehow, the left has overcome the greed and power of their consultants sufficiently to invest more of their resources than we do on ground-game activities, which include data acquisition, social media which directly interacts with voters, and a permanent campaign.

Well more than a billion dollars was spent on paid advertising on behalf of Republican candidates in 2012. Hundreds of millions of dollars of commissions on that advertising certainly went into the pockets of consultants who had sufficient control of the budgets to make that happen. Those consultants, who had to have known about the ground-game activities on the left, pocketed those hundreds of millions of dollars and thereby knowingly starved our Republican ground game.

Not all political consultants loot the political budgets over which they have power. Many consultants run campaigns well-balanced between “air war” and “ground war.” A thorough political autopsy of the 2012 elections would have followed the money (the advertising commissions) and identified those consultants responsible for spending overwhelmingly on commissionable advertising and comparative peanuts on the non-commissionable aspects of politics in which Obama and his allies whipped us badly.

Such research wouldn’t be easy, but there’s enough information on required reports to the Federal Election Commission to provide a pretty good idea of who are the worst offending Republican consultants. Perhaps that research can come from some other source.

Meanwhile, I’m sure the major players in the Republican consultariat are looking over the Growth and Opportunity Project report. They’ll do all they can to keep those paid advertising commissions flowing into their pockets, but, unidentified, they’re looking for new profit centers for themselves among the report’s many proposals for new spending.


Morton Blackwell National Committeeman Virginia

TEXT OF LETTER from Morton C. Blackwell, RNC Member for Virginia, to members of the RNC
Jan. 20, 2013

Dear RNC Colleague,

On January 13, I submitted to our Chairman and our Secretary the below motion to amend The Rules of the Republican Party.

In the years before our 2012 Republican National Convention, the RNC’s Standing Committee on Rules (one member per state and territory) met to consider possible changes to The Rules of the Republican Party each time the RNC met.  That Committee, one third of our RNC members, worked diligently, debated carefully every proposed amendment, reviewed its years of work at its meeting in Tampa, and adopted a report to send to the whole RNC for its consideration.

Some of the proposed rules changes incorporated in the report of the Standing Committee on Rules were intended to open additional channels by which power in the RNC could flow more easily from the bottom up.  The deliberations of the Standing Committee were productive.  Acting independently, members of the Standing Committee generally agreed that it’s a good idea to increase the opportunities for power at the RNC to flow from the bottom up.

The report of the Standing Committee on Rules was presented to the full RNC, which frequently in the past has exercised its right to amend its Standing Committee’s report before sending it on to the Convention Rules Committee for consideration.  Then the Convention Rules Committee’s report is submitted to the national convention  for its consideration.

In 2012, the RNC opted not to amend the report of its Standing Committee on Rules, which was not considered very controversial in the Standing Committee or in the full RNC.  So the Republican National Committee unanimously approved its Standing Committee report and forwarded that report to the Convention Rules Committee

The next day, in the Convention Rules Committee, Ben Ginsberg, a Convention Rules Committee member from D.C., representing himself as the spokesman for the Romney campaign, began to propose amendments to the report from the RNC.  First, he systematically submitted amendments to reverse the few and useful changes adopted by the Standing Committee and the full RNC to open up slightly the flow of power from the bottom up in the RNC.  Then he supported a number of brand new amendments to increase the centralization of power in the RNC.

Although some members of the Convention Rules Committee strongly objected to Ben Ginsberg’s obviously centralizing power grabs, most members of that committee went along with everything he wanted.  After all, he was presumed to be speaking for the candidate we were about to nominate for President.

You will recall, however, the immense, immediate outrage at the convention and from the grassroots against the Ginsberg power grabs.  The national convention’s consideration of the Convention Rules Committee report was a uniquely ugly scene.  What Ben Ginsberg did was particularly foolish because none of the changes he pushed would in any way help us win the coming presidential election.  All he accomplished regarding the 2012 election was to make grassroots conservatives fiercely angry at the Romney campaign.  Of course, if Mitt Romney had been elected in November, there was no chance at all that he would have  trouble with the Republican National Committee.  No Republican President fails to get exactly what he wants from the RNC.  In sum, the power grabs were a stupid move, and our Party is still suffering the consequences.

Grassroots conservatives and libertarians have and use many social media networks.  They can communicate instantly and for free.  Since the national convention and to this day, there is vigorous condemnation of our national Party for Ginsberg’s power grabs, which eliminated non-controversial reforms and deliberately (and unnecessarily) centralized our party even more.  A lot of this criticism is directed personally at Reince Priebus.

This criticism of our party and our chairman makes it much harder to do what we have to do, which is to attract more newcomers and build a superior grassroots election organization for 2014 and beyond.

Instead of further centralizing the Republican Party, we should welcome newcomers and treat them fairly,  politely, and cordially.  What good is it to centralize power if doing so prevents us from recruiting new grassroots activists to our Party and building an organization which can win future elections?

I happen to train thousands of conservative newcomers every year for success in politics.  I know that, if passed, my motion to “de-Ginsberg” our party rules will be greeted enthusiastically by newcomers we want to join us in our efforts to defeat the plans President Obama and his leftist allies are wreaking on our country.

A record vote on my motion would let everyone know where each of us stands on this matter.



Morton Blackwell