WASHINGTON — The Republican National Committee has fired a staffer who helped organize a $1,946 visit last month to a sex-themed Hollywood club, and the GOP says it will recoup the money from a donor who also participated.
The episode is the latest in a string of questionable spending by the RNC as Republicans prepare for a costly election season in which they hope to take dozens of House and Senate seats from Democrats.
An RNC memo says the Jan. 31 outing to Voyeur West Hollywood involved several members of the "Young Eagles" GOP group who had been in Los Angeles for a meeting. An unnamed staffer, who had been warned that such activities did not qualify for reimbursement, has been fired, said the memo from RNC chief of staff Ken McKay.
The club features topless dancers and bondage outfits. It's meant to be "risque and provocative" and "a combination of intimidation and sexuality," one of its partners, David Koral, told the Los Angeles Times in October.
RNC spokesman Doug Heye said the committee will be reimbursed by Erik Brown of Orange, Calif., the donor-vendor who billed the GOP for the club visit on behalf of the attendees.
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.
McKay's memo says the RNC is committed to using donors' funds efficiently and responsibly.
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.
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"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?"
Video: ‘Naked lady place’? 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.
Some Republicans also have questioned whether the RNC is overpaying the finance director Steele hired, Republican consultant Robert Bickhart. Bickhart and his firm have taken in at least $411,568 from the RNC since Steele hired him last summer. That is far more than the roughly $136,000 the RNC has paid Steele during the 2009-10 cycle and rivals President Barack Obama's annual pay of around $400,000.
Steele's supporters say he has brought a refreshing frankness and energy to the party's leadership.
The RNC ended February about $2.5 million ahead of its Democratic rival. The RNC had about $9.5 million on hand and no debt; the Democratic National Committee reported $10.7 million in the bank but $3.7 million in debt.
Under Steele's leadership, the RNC is pressing for more freedom in how it raises money; it is challenging a 2002 law banning it and the Democratic Party from collecting big contributions from corporations and others known as soft money. Steele said last week that the GOP will take the case to the Supreme Court.
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