WASHINGTON – The Republican National Committee spent $1,946 last month at a sex-themed Hollywood club that features topless dancers and bondage outfits. Now the GOP wants its money back.
Listed in a monthly financial report, the amount is itemized as expenses for meals at Voyeur West Hollywood.
RNC spokesman Doug Heye said Monday the committee doesn't know the details of how the money was spent, all who may have attended or the nature of the outing, except to say it was an unauthorized event and that the expenditure was inappropriate.
The RNC will be reimbursed by Erik Brown of Orange, Calif., the donor-vendor who billed the committee for the club visit, Heye said.
Brown did not respond to an e-mail and phone message seeking comment.
Since November, the RNC has paid Brown's company, Dynamic Marketing Inc., about $19,000 for printing and direct-mail services, campaign spending reports show. He has contributed several thousand dollars to the party.
The most recent financial disclosure report said the RNC spent more than $17,000 for private planes in February and nearly $13,000 for car services. Heye said such services are used only when needed.
The $1,946 for meals at Voyeur West Hollywood was the most eye-catching item in the monthly report. RNC Chairman Michael Steele, whose spending decisions have angered some donors in this midterm election year, had nothing to do with the nightclub expenditure, Heye said.
The conservative group Concerned Women for America said the RNC should disclose more about the episode.
"Did they really agree to reimburse nearly $2,000 for a bondage-themed night club?" group president Penny Nance asked in a statement. "Why would a staffer believe that this is acceptable, and has this kind of thing been approved in the past?"
Much of the most lavish spending by the major political parties is associated with fundraisers, which often target wealthy people.
The RNC spent $144,549 for rooms at the Four Seasons Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in 2009. On 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 may have included trinkets or gifts for big donors. It spent $13,622 at Dylan's Candy Bar in New York City.
Some Republican officials and donors have complained about Steele's spending decisions, saying the party should devote every available dollar to trying to win House and Senate races this fall. He held this year's four-day winter meeting at a beachfront hotel in Hawaii, although it often takes place in Washington.
Some donors grumbled when Steele spent more than $18,000 to redecorate his office. Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor, also has received substantial fees for making speeches, even though the RNC pays him a full-time salary.
The expenses were first brought to light by the Web site Daily Caller. The article led with Steele's expenses on charter aircraft and the suggestion by an unnamed source that he was looking for the RNC to buy an airplane to accommodate his travel.
Heye told Fox News the article was misleading because it did not distinguish Steele's expenses from finance and fundraising expenses associated with the purpose of the travel. He added that the story "willfully and erroneously suggests" that Steele was at the club.
"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. ... Good reporting would make that distinction crystal clear," Heye said in his statement.
After the rebuke, Jonathan Strong, the reporter who wrote the Daily Caller article, told MSNBC that he never said Steele was at Voyeur, but "I hope to find out whether that's the case in the coming days."
Daily Caller founder Tucker Carlson also offered a statement. "To be clear: We did not claim that Michael Steele personally visited Voyeur West Hollywood. In fact, and unfortunately, we still know almost nothing about that trip, including its purpose. If the RNC provides details, we’ll put them on the site immediately."
Steele's supporters say he has brought a refreshing frankness and energy to the party's leadership.
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