August 25, 2010

Analysis: When Steele is special guest at fundraisers, reporters aren’t

Print More

By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

For the second time in two weeks I got “dis-invited” to a fundraiser for a local candidate that featured Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Boo hoo.

I wish I could say I was “thrown out” of Tuesday night’s fundraiser for Howard County Council candidate Dennis Schrader — Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s homeland security director — at the lovely Clarksville home of investor and former W.R. Grace CEO J.P. Bolduc. But in fact, I didn’t even make it up the front steps. I had contacted Schrader about attending, and he had been checking into it when I got e-mails from the publisher of the Business Monthly, where I do a column, passing along an invite from JP.

On Aug. 17, Anne Arundel County Council member Cathy Vitale, running for the House of Delegates, was having a funder with Steele, and her campaign sent out a press release. I messaged her campaign staff: “I presume this is open for coverage?”

Yes, I was told. But then I get a call withdrawing the invitation, because of Vitale’s car crash, which left her hurt but mobile. They weren’t canceling the event, just excluding press.

When the candidate wants you to come, and the host wants you to come, then it must be the “Special Guest” — as Steele is labeled in the invitations — that would prefer reporters be non-guests.

Getting excluded from fundraisers and other events is nothing new. There have always been political events that we were invited to cover, and those that we weren’t. But most candidates have wanted us there to show off their support.

Now it has become de rigueur that reporters are persona non grata at high-end fundraisers, so that donors would feel “special” getting up close and personal with the “special” guests, with no pesky reporters around to dilute the experience.

So these days I usually ask, “Can I come to your fundraiser?”

But the rules have gotten blurry as candidates use more social media, and guests start recording video on their cell phones. I often get invited to an event multiple times — by e-mail or Facebook. Of course, that’s really intended for paying customers, not freeloaders like myself.

Sometimes I’ll show up at things, and most people are too polite to throw me out or, in the case of Howard County, where I’ve reported for decades, so many people know me that it’s just sort of expected I’m covering the event.

What about Steele? Well, he does seem to have a persistent case of foot-in-mouth disease, and when last we spoke at a June GOP dinner, his aides clearly wanted to tear him away. He’s been caught saying things at fundraisers that have gotten him into trouble.

Or perhaps, he’s taking seriously the results of a statewide poll released July 15 by the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling.

Said the pollsters: “Marylanders don’t have high opinions of their former Lieutenant Governor, Michael Steele; 56% of voters have an unfavorable opinion of the Chairman of the Republican National Committee and a mere 19% give him high marks. Republicans traditionally are unconditionally supportive of party members, but not in the case of Steele. Only 42% of Republicans said they had a favorable opinion of their party leader. Conservatives aren’t fans either, only 38% reported having a favorable view of Steele.”

Most reporters, myself included, think nobody much cares how hard it is to get access, do our jobs, play our tricks or sneak into where we’re not supposed to be.

But it’s just odd that Michael Steele can be a big draw for an event, but the local candidates can’t let reporters hear the nice things he says about them.