Republican National Committee lives it up
by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
As Republican leaders denounced President Obama for the cost of healthcare reform, Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele presented the GOP with an expense account detailing lavish spending on deluxe hotels, chartered jets, limousine services, and at least one high-end strip club.
According to Steele's March spending report, RNC officials frequented only the best hotels, including the Beverly Hills Hotel (at which they spent $9,000), the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons ($6,600) and the W Hotel in D.C. ($15,000).
The GOP's midwinter meeting in Hawaii ended up costing the party $43,000 in expenses, not including airfare.
To travel to these posh locations, the RNC spent more than $17,000 on private jets, as well as nearly $13,000 for limousines and car services in February alone.
Perhaps the most interesting expense was the $1,946.25 spent at Voyeur, a West Hollywood nightclub that features strippers performing simulated S&M and Lesbian sex.
RNC spokesperson Doug Heye denied that Steele had personally visited the club, or was aware that other RNC personnel had visited it.
"The chairman was never at the location in question, he had no knowledge of the expenditure, nor does he find the use of committee funds at such a location at all acceptable," Heye said in a statement.
According to Heye, the RNC paid the stripper expense in error, and will be reimbursed by Erik Brown of Orange, California, who billed the GOP for the club visit on behalf of the attendees.
According to public disclosure statements, Brown is both a donor and recipient of GOP money.
Since November, the RNC has paid Brown's company, Dynamic Marketing Inc., about $19,000 for printing and direct-mail services. He has contributed several thousand dollars to the party.
Brown has not commented on the evening at Voyeur, or his relationship with the Republican Party.
The RNC also announced on March 29 that it has fired Allison Meyers, the staffer who organized the evening at Voyeur. Meyers was director of the RNC's "Young Eagles" program for donors under the age of 45. Several "Young Eagles" were reportedly guests of the GOP at Voyeur.
The new revelations follow a pattern Steele has set in the 14 months he has been RNC chair.
In 2009, the RNC spent a total of $144,549 for rooms at the Four Seasons Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. On one day alone - March 19, 2009 - it spent $31,980 for catering by the Breakers Palm Beach in Florida.
The RNC paid $18,361 over the past several months to the Tiny Jewel Box in Washington for "office supplies," which reportedly included trinkets or gifts for major donors. It spent $13,622 at Dylan's Candy Bar in New York City.
On election as RNC chair, Steele ordered his personal office redecorated to the tune of $18,500.
Heye maintains that the hotels, jets, and limousines were booked only "as needed."
Some prominent Republicans defended Steele, saying he was simply trying to woo the party's major donors.
"The appearance is bad, I'll give you that," said Larry Farnsworth, a Republican strategist and former press secretary to House Speaker Dennis Hastert. "But it's tough raising money and I don't think donors want to meet for free waffles and coffee at the Holiday Inn Express. These guys want to be wined and dined - it's the dirty part of politics."
If fundraising was Steele's plan, he has not been spectacularly successful. The RNC had more than $22 million on hand when Steele was elected chairman last January, but is down to under $10 million now despite raising $96 million during that time.
Other Republican heavy-hitters were critical of Steele.
"For those donors who truly believe in conservative values, this latest news about Steele has to be very disturbing," said Douglas MacKinnon, former press secretary to Majority Leader Robert Dole.
"No matter which side of the aisle you find yourself, if you are giving a political party your hard-earned money, you should have no doubts that it is going to be spent as advertised and not to provide a spoiled, egocentric, out-of-touch chairman with frivolous luxuries which are out of reach of the vast majority of the American people."
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