During official Republican National Committee trips, chairman Michael Steele spent tens of thousands of dollars on private air travel, limousines and hotels according to an investigation by The Daily Caller
The conservative Web site founded by pundit Tucker Carlson looked at FEC filings and also alleged that during a February RNC visit to Beverly Hills, Steele spent $1,946.25 at "Voyeur West Hollywood, a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex."
The Republican National Committee disputed that Steele himself had spent money at the Hollywood nightclub. "This was a reimbursement made to a non-committee staffer,'' the RNC said in a statement. "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."
RNC Spokesman Doug Heye pressed that point emphatically on Fox News
Monday afternoon. "Michael Steele was not there. He didn't know about it. He would not have known about it," Heye told Fox's Megyn Kelly.
Heye said he didn't know who was reimbursed by the RNC for the charges, but Kelly and several other news organizations reported that the club-goer was Erik Brown, a Republican direct-mail executive from Orange County, Calif.
The money will be repaid to the RNC, Heye reassured Republicans. "We want to make sure our donors know that we are responsible stewards of their money," he said. "People expect that money will go into races."
The Daily Caller also reported that Steele looked into the possibility of purchasing a private jet for his travel, or at least buying partial ownership in one. The purchase was never made, but Steele regularly charters aircraft. During February the chairman spent $17,514 on private planes (as well as $12,691 on limousines that same month), according to federal filings.
Steele refused interview requests but the RNC defended Steele's travel budget to the Daily Caller's Jonathan Strong:
The RNC explains that Steele charters jets only when commercial service is unavailable, or when his tight schedule requires it. "Anytime the chairman has taken any private travel has been either to a route that doesn't exist or because of connections and multiple travel to where he just wasn't able to do so," (spokesman Doug) Heye said.
The committee points out that extravagant accommodations can help attract big-spending donors. But critics say fundraising is not always Steele's priority: "This is not somebody who is out recruiting candidates," said an aide who worked closely with Steele. "He is not meeting with donors. He's not asking for money.''
The Daily Caller said that a March 20 FEC filing showed the RNC had $9.5 million cash on hand. It said Steele began his tenure with $22.8 million, and has since raised $96.2 million. During the same period, however, the RNC has spent $109.6 million, which included aid to the campaigns that elected Gov. Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey.