Breaking: College Republican Chapters War with National Org as Allegations of Incompetence, Corruption Fly

Last summer, Courtney Britt became chairwoman of the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) after a troubled elections season that saw a number of state federations supporting her opponent disqualified as a result of her and her predecessor’s (two-term CRNC chairman Chandler Thornton) machinations.

The suspect circumstances around Britt’s ascension led to a mass exodus from the organization and scrutiny from Republicans as prominent as House Conference chairwoman Elise Stefanik. Stefanik’s home state of New York was disenfranchised in last year’s election, as were the prominent federations in Florida and Texas, among others.

The internal strife has implications for the broader Republican Party: In some states, federations provide a huge help with the basic blocking and tackling — knocking on doors, making phone calls, etc. — needed to elect Republicans. At the CRNC, state, and chapter level, College Republicans serve as a breeding ground for future leaders of the party; Karl Rove is a former chairman of the organization, for example.

"I genuinely pray to God that every CR [College Republican] in attendance will come to their senses and open their eyes to see the institutional decay that this organization is undergoing," said Ty Seymour, the outgoing CRNC treasurer in an emotional speech at last year’s CRNC convention.

One year later, history appears to be repeating itself as unilateral decision-making and financial mismanagement plague a hemorrhaging operation.

A Hemorrhaging CRNC

On May 20 of this year, Britt sent an email indicating that the CRNC had been reduced to only 20 state federation affiliates that would be eligible to participate in this year’s elections for regional vice chairs, out of the 52 total federations boasted on the organization's website.

While a number of federations disaffiliated of their own accord after last year’s events, many in the organization — including members of Britt’s executive board — were shocked by the number, which reflected not just the initial exodus, but a subsequent purge.

“We’ll begin working to reorganize/rebuild this summer. I’m hoping to take a closer look at each state not listed to figure out where the issues are so that we can take a tailored approach to each one,” wrote Britt. But many of the states removed involuntarily had no idea there were any problems to begin with.

Ryan Silverstein, treasurer for the Connecticut federation, told National Review that leadership in his state had a “suspicion” that Britt would try to throw them out as a result of their support for her opponent last year and had thus been very intentional in following CRNC guidelines and their own constitution. Nevertheless, Connecticut was not included on the short list of credentialed federations identified by Britt.

“They said we didn’t follow their guidelines and that we broke our constitution. But they didn’t tell us what we broke. They just said we broke something,” said Silverstein. Newly unaffiliated federation chairs such as Connecticut’s Glenn Prushinski received an email from Britt, obtained by National Review, that read “this email is to acknowledge that your College Republican Federation failed to meet its requirements as set forth by either your Federation’s constitution/by laws, the CRNC’s guidance issued January 17, 2022, or both. As a result, there is no one representing your state on the CRNC National Board at this time.”

The communique urged recipients to click on a link “to receive notifications about how to be involved” in the process of “rebuild[ing] a new, stronger Federation of College Republicans in your state.”

In other words, if Britt deemed your federation in violation of its rules — or more conveniently her guidance — your federation was immediately dissolved in the eyes of the national umbrella organization and cut off from its valuable grants and infrastructure. There would be no quick fix or reinstatement, and the chairwoman herself would have discretion to admit new federations.

Silverstein said that both he and Prushinski have been told that they’ll have to “start from scratch” in order to reestablish the Connecticut federation. “We think she’s trying to recruit new federations loyal to her,” speculated Silverstein. As National Review previously reported, Thornton used a similar strategy last year, unceremoniously stripping the Louisiana College Republicans organization of its status within the CRNC and replacing it with a fledgling skeleton federation that supported Britt.

One national federation board member who spoke on the condition of anonymity told National Review that in the Northeast alone, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont were summarily removed. According to that member, some states received frequent reminders from the national board to submit minutes for their state-level conventions. None of the chapters that were decertified received such reminders, he said. He described the strategy as “picking winners and losers.”

It’s another tactical echo of last year’s debacle, when states supporting Britt were made aware of how the rules were to be interpreted while those that opposed Britt were left in the dark. The selective effort to keep some states compliant was used as a pretext for disenfranchising much of the country, according to disgruntled members.

Notably, the previous CRNC board had tried to require that convention minutes from states be submitted to the CRNC through a constitutional amendment, but the measure was voted down. So instead, CRNC leadership unilaterally implemented the rule under penalty of derecognition, announcing the abrupt policy change in the January 17 guidance referenced by Britt.

Another derecognized state chairman who asked to remain anonymous told National Review that he had not received any kind of heads-up before finding out that his state had been ousted, and has still not received any specific explanation for it was removed.

Nick Dokoozlian is the Western Regional vice chairman on Britt’s executive board. Under normal circumstances, his region would include federations in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, but only five remained in the CRNC after Britt took over. Now California and Colorado are all that remain. “We have fewer states now than we did when Courtney Britt became chair, and that’s when half of the states were threatening to secede,” observed Dokoozlian during an interview with National Review.

“What’s going to become of the CRNC? What is the future of the CRNC?” he asked. “Is it just so a select few can continue just to take money from donors, or is it to advance the interests of College Republicans?”

‘Incredibly Worrying’ Financial Opacity

Dokoozlian serves on the Budget and Finance committee of the CRNC and has made transparency on those issues a hobbyhorse of his, although with limited success. Close to a year into his term, he says he’s yet to see underlying financial documents for the organization.

During one meeting of the committee held last September, Britt informed members that former chairman Chandler Thornton had been rehired by the CRNC at the clip of $900 per week — or $46,800 per year — to serve as “finance director.” Neither Britt nor Thornton responded to requests for comment.

Additionally, Britt announced that the organization would be paying out reimbursements to Thornton, even listing the payments under their own category in the 2022 budget. The explanation for it in the meeting minutes reads:

When Chandler Thornton became the Chairman he was left without any money at all in the bank account and a number of unpaid invoices, so he personally fronted the money for the committee so that it could continue its normal functions. We’re continuing to reimburse him over time for this money he initially fronted.

Expenditure reports from 2021 obtained by National Review appear to show that Thornton received $40,000 in reimbursements before handing the reins over to Britt. According to the meeting minutes, Britt professed not to be “sure what the exact amount is that we owe in reimbursements to Chandler Thornton,” but offered that she believed “it’s approximately $35,000, and I intend to pay him the remainder of that his year.”

Later in the meeting, Dokoozlian argued that “everyone would be much more understanding” of the hefty reimbursements “if we could just see the receipts to see that he really did pay for this.”

“I have a few things to address in that,” said Britt in response. “First of all, we as a committee are bluntly quite lucky that we didn’t go bankrupt four years ago when Chandler was elected. Had any of us been elected, I don’t know about you all, but I know I personally could not have fronted $65,000+ for the committee. We would not have been able to make it without his personal generosity.

“Secondly, I believe that Chandler is one of the most honest people that I have ever met in my life. He is a man of great integrity, and I feel the need to defend that while he’s unable to defend himself,” she said.

Dakoozlian said he was “not questioning Chandler’s integrity,” by asking for documentation of his personal expenditures on behalf of the organization.

“I have a lot of friends, too, but when they [are] involved with organizations’ things, they need receipts,” he said.

Britt closed out the meeting by lamenting that she “expected more out of everyone” who she thought would “want to be a part of greater transparency, honesty, and integrity.”

On June 15, Britt released a “Report of the Chairman” in which she stated that Thornton was owed $47,475.68 when she assumed her position last year, all of which she says has since been paid back to him.

“As with all reimbursements during my administration, these were fulfilled in accordance with our policies and procedures, with the Budget and Finance Committee's awareness, and under the supervision of a Certified Public Accountant,” wrote Britt. She also claimed that Thornton’s attributes as a fund-raiser were “not features that could be found in another individual” in an effort to justify his appointment as finance director.

“I have no clue where we’re standing with finances, and that’s a very scary thing,” Dokoozlian told National Review, before decrying the decision to bring a “former embattled chairman” onto the organization’s payroll. “I struggle to know of a serious organization that would even consider that type of reimbursement, $40,000, without any receipts, without any documentation that it actually happened.”

The financial opacity of the organization is a longstanding concern. Seymour, the treasurer during Thornton’s second term, told National Review that he never had any knowledge of Thornton’s lending the CRNC money out of his own pocket. Charlie Kolean, Seymour’s predecessor, said he was similarly unaware of any money Thornton had loaned the organization, although he did remember that the organization was in debt when Thornton took it over.

While the reimbursement and contract money flows, state federations find it difficult to get the grant money they request, according to Dokoozlian and his anonymous colleague on the executive board.

“I have been working with Colorado very closely. They have been trying to get a block grant that was approved, and Courtney will not give them the block grant. We’ve done it two or three times now,” said Dokoozlian, who noted that the Centennial State was only asking for $1,000 to help with voter-outreach efforts.

Silverstein described similar problems with the grant program. While they had heard that the CRNC’s grants were going to be geared toward helping states with fledgling fund-raising efforts, it turned out that Britt had decided to match only those funds that states had already raised, thereby disadvantaging smaller states such as Silverstein’s, many of which opposed Britt in last year’s election.

Other questions about the budget and CRNC’s use of its resources abound.

The organization’s 2022 budget, outlined in a document obtained by National Review, set aside $10,000 for a “rebrand,” and an additional $40,000 for “rebrand and digital fundraising.” $2,500 was dedicated to “tech and digital.” Despite those investments, the CRNC website is a near-empty vessel; the only text to be found on its home page is “the best party on campus since 1892,” a rolling ticker at the top that reads “sign the petition to kick the Chinese Communist Party off campus!” and a live feed of its sparsely used Twitter account.

The “About” section explains: “Founded in 1892, the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) is one of the nation's largest, longest-running, and most active youth political organizations. The CRNC is comprised of 52 Federations, including one in each state in addition to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, with a presence on nearly 2,000 college campuses and over 250,000 members nationwide.”

$150,000 is reserved for salaries, $96,000 for compliance and legal matters, and $120,000 for outside consultants. Chapter boxes, which include a small number of cheap items such as mini-flying disks and sunglasses for clubs to hand out to their members, cost the CRNC $400,000.

The block-grant program gets $50,000.

The aforementioned derecognized state chair was aghast. “When you’re running an organization that has expenses and revenues of around a million dollars, and the stakeholders — the federations — only get to see a one-page or two-page document about the organization’s expenses, that’s incredibly worrying,” he said

‘Everyone … Thinks They’re Karl Rove or Lee Atwater’

Before last year’s election, when he was still chairman of the Colorado federation, Dokoozlian said he “still thought College Republicans was about knocking on doors, making phone calls, and getting Republicans elected.” He’s since been disabused of that idea, first by last year’s events — 3 a.m. meetings to disadvantage Britt’s opponent, sudden changes in rule interpretations, the unilateral removal of longstanding federations — and now by this year’s.

“If a state is out of line by one iota” and is on Britt’s bad side, she will “strike them and defederate them,” Dokoozlian said.

“I’m just at a loss for words. How you can take this organization that is supposed to empower young Republicans all over the country and in college to stand up and fight back, walk, call, knock on doors, and everything just turn it into this weird LARPing session with wannabe politicos,” he added.

“There’s no work and there’s no negotiation. There isn’t anything of the sort — no compromise. It’s either the chairwoman’s way or the highway,” said Dokoozlian’s colleague on board. According to that board member, a number of federation chairmen — or former federation chairmen, depending on how you look at it — have expressed the opinion that “it’s time to abandon ship… this will never get better.”

That’s exactly what Britt was hoping would happen, according to the board member. “That’s the trick,” he said resignedly.

The state chair was similarly disheartened, lamenting that “we are just seeing the disintegration of the CRNC right in front of us.”

“I thinks there’s a place for the CRNC, but not in its current state,” said Dokoozlian. “The CRNC exists not to prop up this weird agenda where you try to make money and then launch your career as a consultant. It’s not to solicit and utilize donations with little to no transparency or documentation. I wish the CRNC got back to supporting our college Republicans all over the country to feel included and to elect good conservative leaders.”

“Everyone that gets elected to the executive board thinks they’re Karl Rove or Lee Atwater,” he offered. “That's it, at its core. That is the problem.”

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College Republican Chapters War with National Org as Allegations of Incompetence, Corruption Fly

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