This story was updated at 2:52 p.m.
Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele dropped his bid for a second term on Friday after being offered a lucrative deal in exchange for his endorsement, sources on the committee tell The Hotline.
Steele dropped out of the race for chairman after four ballots on Friday and threw his support to Maria Cino, a former Bush administration official who finished third in the race. Steele endorsed Cino from the stage after ending his bid, a rare public announcement in a contest marked more by quiet member-to-member conversations.
That endorsement came at a cost, according to committee insiders. As candidates jockeyed for position, Steele sat down with aides to both Cino and former RNC co-chairman Ann Wagner in search of a deal. Eventually, Cino allies offered Steele a deal that would have been more lucrative than the chairman's salary, the sources said. The RNC chairman makes $224,500 a year. Whether the deal included guarantees of contracts or of future employment was not immediately clear to sources who spoke with The Hotline
Cino herself was not involved in the conversation. At one point, Cino campaign manager Matt Schlapp spoke with Steele and promised no Cino allies would bad-mouth the outgoing chairman or stand in his way as he sought to make the move to the private sector, according to a source who was briefed on the meeting. The source said Schlapp offered no financial deals or jobs. Steele did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Swapping goods or favors in an election among 168 political insiders like those who make up the RNC is as common as denying those deals exist. Those favors can involve transferring money to states, or appointments to RNC committees, or fundraising visits to states by party chairmen.
In between rounds of voting on Friday, negotiations were fast and fierce as candidates spent more time talking to each other than with undecided and uncommitted voters. Candidates dashed in and out of side rooms in full view of the media.
Deals frequently become obvious over time. On Friday, candidates met with members of the island caucus, an influential group of members who routinely vote as a bloc in order to win concessions for their territories. In 2009, island voters backed Steele, and he repaid them with transfers of cash to Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands, and with a semi-annual meeting held in Hawaii early in 2010.
Word of a deal is enticing precisely because Steele endorsed Cino, who had the backing of many in the Washington establishment. Cino had been endorsed by House Speaker John Boehner, who made phone calls on her behalf and made a passing reference to his support for Cino during a rreception for RNC members on Wednesday. Boehner did not offer the deal, the sources said, and Boehner's spokesman said the speaker, engaged in a members retreat in Baltimore this weekend, had not spoken with Steele on Friday.
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