G.O.P. Opens Inquiry on Club Expenditure
By JEFF ZELENY and BERNIE BECKER
Published: March 29, 2010
WASHINGTON — The Republican National Committee on Monday opened an investigation into why party money, which donors contributed to help win seats in the midterm elections, was used to pay a $2,000 tab at a risqué Hollywood club in late January.
The outing at Voyeur in West Hollywood, which features topless dancers and acts involving bondage, appeared on the Republicans’ monthly disclosure report to the Federal Election Commission, along with tens of thousands of dollars for private airplanes, limousines and luxury hotels.
“It was obviously improper — for more than one reason,” said Doug Heye, a party spokesman, who confirmed that officials had opened an inquiry into the club expenditure. “It was not a sanctioned R.N.C. activity. It was improper because of the venue.”
A Republican National Committee staff member, who was not identified, was dismissed for his role in the incident, Mr. Heye said Monday evening. He added that “accounting and reimbursement processes are being revised” to prevent similar episodes from occurring.
As Republicans try to win control of the House and Senate in this midterm election year, several party officials and contributors have privately raised concerns about the financial disparities with Democrats. The Republican Congressional re-election committees have fallen behind their Democratic rivals, a fund-raising gap that party leaders had hoped would be narrowed by the Republican National Committee.
Erik Brown of Orange, Calif., a Republican consultant and donor, submitted a reimbursement request for $1,946.25 from his club visit on Jan. 31. He listed the amount as a meal expense at the club, whose interior was inspired by an orgy scene in the movie “Eyes Wide Shut.” When the expenditure came to light on Monday, after it was reported by The Daily Caller, a conservative online publication, party officials said Mr. Brown would repay the money.
Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee chairman, has battled criticism for his spending habits. He has drawn consternation from party officials for delivering paid speeches across the country, and they expressed shock in January when Mr. Steele published a book, “Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda.”
Mr. Heye said Mr. Steele was aboard a flight from the party’s winter meeting at the time of the nightclub outing and was not involved. An interview request with Mr. Steele on Monday was declined.
“We recognize the difficulty this incident has caused and assure our members and supporters that any necessary and proper remediation is being implemented immediately,” Mr. Heye said. “It is unfortunate that a loyal G.O.P. 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.”
Mr. Brown did not respond to interview requests.
The February filings to the Federal Election Commission show that the Republican committee spent $17,500 on travel by private jet, in addition to about $15,000 on limousines. The report also listed several hotel charges ranging in the thousands of dollars, including the W Hotel in Washington ($15,000), the Beverly Hills Hotel ($9,000) and the Four Seasons in Philadelphia ($7,000).
Mr. Heye said the expenses were simply the cost of doing business and raising money. He said that Mr. Steele’s travel was “overwhelmingly on commercial airlines — that is the standard mode.” But he added, “There are times when there is a route that doesn’t exist.” When Mr. Steele took over the committee last year, it had $22 million in cash on hand. This month, records show, that amount is $9.46 million.
In a radio interview earlier this year, Mr. Steele brushed aside criticism of the party’s spending, as well as assertions that some contributors had stopped donating or lowered their contributions. Mr. Steele told KTRS radio in St. Louis: “I am in this chair. If they want it, take it from me. Until then, shut up, step back and get in the game and help us win.” A New York Times review of the Democratic National Committee spending in the month of February found that the party spent about $11,000 on car services and limousines, with the largest expense being $9,800 for a private car service in Dallas. Other expenditures included a $32,000 bill at the Capital Skyline Hotel in Washington, for what party officials said was a weeklong staff retreat, and $256,000 on catering and equipment rental at the Washington Hilton for the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee.
The Democratic National Committee seized on the Republican financial report on Monday. A spokesman for the party, Brad Woodhouse, said: “If limos, chartered aircraft and sex clubs are where they think their donors’ money should be spent, who are we to judge?”
Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and a longtime national party official, said he was confident with the “internal controls” on committee finances.
“The budget committee reviews spending on a regular basis,” Mr. Anuzis said. “Everything is fine.”
Ron Nixon contributed reporting. $2,000 Bill From Topless Club Leads to G.O.P. Inquiry - NYTimes.com