Monday, March 29, 2010
Republicans Behaving Badly
The Republican National Committee gave nearly $2,000 to a Southern California GOP contributor for meal expenses at Voyeur West Hollywood, a lesbian-themed California nightclub that features topless dancers wearing horse-bits and other bondage gear, according to newly filed disclosure records.
The RNC said Monday it is investigating the disbursement of the money to Erik Brown of Orange, Calif., who has donated about $10,000 to GOP candidates and is listed in public records as the CEO of Dynamic Marketing Inc., with offices in California and Washington. Brown did not immediately respond Monday to messages left by telephone and e-mail.
RNC spokesman Doug Heye said "I can't comment on him" when asked about Brown and his connection to the party committee. But Heye said Brown is "not on committee staff" and that the visit to the Voyeur nightclub "was not an RNC event." He said the RNC is investigating the expenditure and is requesting that the money be returned.
"It was not anything sanctioned by the committee, and that is why we have requested an investigation," Heye said. "Obviously, given the location, it's something that's not appropriate."
The Feb. 4 nightclub disbursement was included as part of the RNC's monthly expense reports filed with the Federal Election Commission last week. The reports also included tens of thousands of dollars in expenditures for luxury jets, limousines and posh hotels, prompting further criticism from Democrats and some Republicans over the spending habits of RNC Chairman Michael Steele.
The RNC spent more than $17,000 on private jet travel in February as well as nearly $13,000 for limousines and car services, and also ran up tabs at luxe hotels including the Beverly Hills Hotel ($9,000); the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons ($6,600) and the W Hotel in Washington ($15,000). The GOP's controversial midwinter meeting in Hawaii ended up costing the party $43,000 in expenses, not including airfare, the records show.
Steele has come under steady fire for his financial stewardship of the organization. The RNC had more than $22 million on hand when Steele arrived last year, but is down to under $10 million now despite raising $96 million during that time, records show. The Daily Caller website, which first noted the new FEC filings, also reported that Steele had suggested that the RNC should purchase a private jet for his travels after he first took over the job in January 2009.
The new financial records prompted mocking criticism from the Democratic National Committee, which issued a press release Monday entitled: "RNC: Risque National Committee." Spokesman Brad Woodhouse said DNC Chairman Tim Kaine usually travels on commercial flights and does not use limousine services.
"We think their extravagant spending and their high burn rate speaks for itself," said Woodhouse. "If limos, chartered aircraft and sex clubs are where they think their donors' money should be spent, who are we to judge? But it shouldn't give voters much confidence in Republicans when they say they want to be put back in charge of federal spending."
But Heye said that the RNC was being held to a different standard than Democrats, arguing that paying for high-end hotels and other accoutrements is standard practice for political parties when wooing wealthy donors. Steele's use of car services in February, for example, was primarily related to the launch of television advertisements in North Carolina, Ohio, Florida and Oklahoma, Heye said.
"Obviously the press has taken a finer microscope to the RNC as opposed to the DNC," Heye said.
Steele's spending habits have prompted angry complaints from wealthy GOP donors and party officials, who fear the chairman is making poor financial decisions and undercutting the GOP's attempt to cast itself as the party of fiscal responsibility. "Nothing surprises me," said one former RNC aide, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. "It definitely speaks to the desire for first class accommodations over there."
The expenditure of $1,946.25 at Voyeur West Hollywood is listed as "meals" on the RNC disclosure form, and comes right after an identical amount listed as a disbursement to Brown, the Southern California marketing executive. Heye said the two listings refer to the same single disbursement to Brown.
Brown has contributed nearly $10,000 to Republicans since 2007, including at least $1,500 to the RNC, records show. A Twitter account registered to a user of the same name also suggests Brown attended a football game in Washington on Oct. 26 with the committee chair: "Enjoying the football game with RNC Chairman Michael Steele. (Eagles vs Redskins at FedEx Field)."
Voyeur West Hollywood has garnered attention in Los Angeles for its risque and outrageous theme since opening last fall, attracting celebrities such as Lindsey Lohan and Leonardo DiCaprio. A Los Angeles Times article said the club had a "dark, leather-heavy interior" that was "reminiscent of the masked orgy scene" from the movie "Eyes Wide Shut" and includes "impromptu bondage and S&M 'scenes' being played out on an elevated platform by scantily clad performers." Opening night included one woman "with a horse's bit in her mouth...strapped to the wall by another," the article said.
Club management officials did not immediately respond to a telephone message left at Voyeur's office on Monday.
Staff writer Philip Rucker contributed to this report.
at 3:12 PM