What's the difference between the spending habits of some of the Republican Party's top leaders -- including Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele -- and your stereotypical corporate fat cat or rock star? A couple of zeros, maybe, but their tastes seem to veer pretty close.
That's the impression one gets after reading that Steele and Co. spent about $30,000 on limos, private hotels and jets in the month of February alone. The dislosures raise the question of whether Republican Party leaders are aware of the deep well of public outrage over the perceived jet-setting excesses of Wall Street and corporate executives.
The expenditures include nearly $2,000 for "meals" at an expensive, "bondage-themed" strip club in West Hollywood.
During the worst recession in decades, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting 15 million unemployed Americans as of February, Steele and crew apparently see no problem with jetting around in private planes, taking limos and staying at fancy hotels. Great message control, guys. (Now, it appears an RNC aide has lost his job over the incident. See update at end of post.)
Private Jets, Limos...and the Voyeur West Hollywood
According to data unearthed by conservative website The Daily Caller, Steele spent $17,514 on private planes and $12,691 on limousines last month. Steele was apparently so enamored with flying around on private jets that he even inquired about the possiblity of buying one for his personal use, the site reported.
Oh, and then there's the nugget about someone associated with the Republican committee who spent $1,946.25 at Voyeur West Hollywood, which the Caller described as "a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex."
That person was not Steele, the RNC said. "This was a reimbursement made to a noncommittee staffer,'' an RNC spokesperson told Politico. "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."
Later it emerged that the person responsible for the expense was Erik Brown, president of a Southern California marketing company that worked on a state political campaign.
The RNC also defended Steel's private jet flights. "Any time the chairman has taken any private travel has been either to a route that doesn't exist or because of connections and multiple travel to where he just wasn't able to do so," Heye told Jonathan Strong, author of the Caller story. Strong added: "Yet Steele's office repeatedly refused to explain in specific terms the circumstances of the February charter flights."
Further details from The Daily Caller:
Once on the ground, [Federal Election Commission] filings suggest, Steele travels in style. A February RNC trip to California, for example, included a $9,099 stop at the Beverly Hills Hotel, $6,596 dropped at the nearby Four Seasons, and $1,620.71 spent [update: the amount is actually $1,946.25] at Voyeur West Hollywood, a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex.
RNC trips to other cities produced bills from a long list of chic and costly hotels such as the Venetian and the M Resort in Las Vegas, and the W (for a total of $19,443) in Washington. A midwinter trip to Hawaii cost the RNC $43,828, not including airfare.
A March 20 FEC filing shows the RNC has $9.5 million cash on hand. Steele began his tenure with $22.8 million, and has since raised $96.2 million. During the same period, however, the RNC has spent $109.6 million, for a deficit of $13.4 million.
Predictably, the Democratic National Committee had a field day with the news. "If limos, chartered aircraft and sex clubs are where they think their donor's money should be spent -- who are we to judge?" Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the committee, toldThe New York Times. "But, this controversy shouldn't give voters much confidence in Republicans when they say they want to be put back in charge of federal spending -- not that their performance the last time they were in charge would have engendered any confidence in the first place."
Update 10:20 p.m. Monday: The RNC has apparently fired an aide over the incident and issued a tough statement from Doug Heye, the group's communications director.
At the outset, Chairman Steele was not at Voyeur West Hollywood. He had no knowledge of the expenditure, nor does he find the use of committee funds at such a location acceptable. While some in the press have suggested Chairman Steele was at the venue, he was not and no proof has been offered that he was. When the expense was incurred, Chairman Steele was on United flight # 0084, returning from the RNC Winter Meeting.
Upon finding out of the expenditure this morning, Chairman Steele demanded the committee get to the bottom of this matter immediately.
The committee has taken appropriate steps to address the issues relating to the reimbursement of certain expenses. First, as reported, the expenditure in question will be recouped by the RNC. Second, appropriate personnel actions have been taken and accounting and reimbursement processes are being revised to ensure that such an action cannot reoccur. We recognize the difficulty this incident has caused and assure our members and supporters that any necessary and proper remediation is being implemented immediately.
It is unfortunate that a loyal GOP donor who has recruited other donors became involved in this incident while merely trying to help what turned out to be the improper request of a staffer who is no longer with the committee.