These recent charges were racked up not by the Republican National Committee (RNC) — which is facing a firestorm of criticism over party expenditures at a bondage-themed strip club — but by its Democratic counterpart. Behind the RNC spending flap, sparked by a Daily Caller report, lies the little-spoken truth that Democrats, too, spend at lavish venues most voters would associate with Hollywood, not D.C.
“When you’re catering to rich people … you don’t stay at the Comfort Inn,” Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, said in an interview. Charging hundreds or thousands of dollars at at a time at upscale hotels and nightspots, he explained, “is nothing that’s unique to one party or the other.”
On September 17, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) coupled its Caesar’s Palace charge with a $325 bill at the Flamingo hotel in Vegas, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures. The DNC also charged $226 at two Vegas resorts last month, two weeks after President Obama warned bailed-out banks not to “take a trip to Las Vegas” using taxpayer funds.
“There is a certain amount of travel and meeting space that is standard in fundraising and party affairs,” DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse told The Daily Caller via e-mail. The Fontainebleau expenses, dated December 15, were accrued during a winter meeting of the party’s executive committee and the Association of State Democratic Chairs, Woodhouse added.
Of course, the DNC and RNC differ in one major respect from the Wall Street banks chastised by Obama: the campaign committees travel in style using money from donors, not taxpayers. The challenge for Republicans and Democrats alike, then, is avoiding the type of public-relations disaster that befell the RNC, which Tuesday fired a junior staffer believed to have approved the $1,945 charge at Voyeur nightclub.
Both parties have encountered their share of spending scandals in the past. The RNC took flak in 2008 after reports that it spent more than $150,000 in designer clothes and accessories for then-vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. The DNC returned millions of dollars in contributions in the late 1990s after the Justice Department began investigating then-President Clinton’s involvement in party fundraising.
“Ultimately, the parties have to decide whether these types of expenditures are worth the expense, or whether they should scale back because it’s not going to look good to middle America, which is struggling with a lousy economy,” Levinthal said. Both parties, he explained, “are trying in large part to appeal to people who have never seen the lobby of Caesar’s Palace.”