Trendy Fashion Buys Reimbursed as "Office Supplies" to RNC Finance Officials
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Campaign finance experts told AlterNet that political parties have broad latitude to decide for themselves what a legitimate political expense, as long as the outlays are plausibly related to a campaign. Office supplies are a pretty broad category, but in the case of the winery expenditure, the RNC appears to be pushing the limit.
"Liquor is not what a reasonable person would understand an office supply," according to Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center. She noted that there are some exceptions: For example, booze for an office Christmas party might legitimately be counted as an office supply.
The FEC Web site states that when an individual is being reimbursed for "office supplies," the party is expected to describe what sort of office supply was purchased if it's not apparent by virtue of the type of vendor from which the purchase was made.
It's not clear why the RNC would be buying "girlish" accessories or fishing outfits, whether as office supplies or not. The RNC has gotten into trouble for political spending on fashion before. During the 2008 presidential campaign, a national scandal erupted when the RNC was found to have spent over $150,000 on a wardrobe for vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
A certain degree of decadence is to be expected in an RNC expense report, considering that the committee specializes in raising money from very rich donors, who expect to be wooed in the style to which they are accustomed. And the RNC surely meets those expectations.
The committee's FEC reports are a litany of luxury hotels and elegant restaurants. While ordinary Americans struggle to make ends meet, RNC staffers are regularly bedding down at Spago Beverly Hills, the Ritz Carlton, the Four Seasons, and the Venetian in Las Vegas. Someone even ran up $5884 hotel bill across the pond at the Dorchester Hotel in London last November. Records show that staffers routinely drop hundreds of dollars at Charlie Palmer's Steak House, the Old Ebbitt Grill, and other premium eateries. However, the RNC's finance reports hint at deeper problem -- most notably the thousands of dollars in expenditures AlterNet found that appear to be misstated in campaign finance records.
Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and photographer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her reporting has appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The New York Press, In These Times and other publications. She was the recipient of a 2009 Project Censored Award. She blogs at Focal Point, a Big Think blog. She also writes Morning Coffee, a daily international news bulletin produced by the UN Foundation's UN Dispatch blog. As a blogger for The Media Consortium, Lindsay synthesizes and promotes the best health-care coverage in TMC each week.