GOP, Democrats in close race for lavish spending

Hotels, caterers raking it in

high-flying on Moby Dick

April 04, 2010|By Paul West | paul.west@baltsun.com

For days last week, Democrats gleefully hammered away at the Republican National Committee's payment of $1,946 for "meals" at a West Hollywood strip club, which led to the firing of a committee staffer and continues to focus unwanted attention on National Chairman Michael Steele's management of the RNC.

One jab, in the form of an MSNBC YouTube clip being circulated by the Democratic National Committee, highlights criticism of Steele by Tony Perkins, a leading social conservative. Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is advising members to stop donating to the RNC until the national party gets its financial act together.

"We're simply telling folks, 'Look, don't give your money there,' " said Perkins, whose appearance on the liberal network was interspersed with file footage of Steele and a private jet coming in for a landing.

After suffering perhaps the worst publicity of Steele's 14-month tenure as chairman, RNC officials responded by pointing out that Democrats haven't been exactly pinching pennies under their national chairman, Tim Kaine.

"The DNC spent at least $2,204,000 for luxury hotels and caterers," Doug Heye, the RNC's top spokesman, wrote in an e-mail.

The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington watchdog on money in politics, attempted to sort out the facts, concluding that the national committees of both major parties "sometimes spend lavishly on travel, catering, resorts and hotel accommodations."

On its informative Open Secrets Web site, it invited any interested parties to dig into the fine print and do their own investigating. The same information can also be accessed (in the form of searchable PDF files) from the original source, the Federal Election Commission.

As presented by the Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats indulged their taste for the good life at the Mandarin Oriental in Washington, the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco and the Beverly Hills Hilton, three of the tonier hostelries in America.

Steele got whacked last week for spending RNC money at the Beverly Hills Hotel. A room there will set you back a minimum of $390 (taxes not included) for a randomly selected night in April. The same night at the Beverly Hills Hilton, the DNC's hotel choice, goes for $345, though you can get a nonrefundable rate of $231.

The No. 2 vendor in the country on the RNC's spending list was the Gaylord National Resort in Maryland. The RNC dropped $172,494 at the National Harbor hotel, located on Steele's Prince George's home turf and personally chosen by the chairman for a special national committee meeting last year. No doubt the county's Democratic establishment would have nothing but praise for Steele's decision to stimulate the local economy and bring many national media and political figures to the Potomac River resort for the first time.

No. 3 on the RNC spending list: the Four Seasons Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyo., (in the heart of Cheney country and a favorite of deep-pocketed financiers) at $148,128. No. 6 on the RNC spending list was $206,541 for Moby Dick Airways, which arranges private charter flights.

The top recipient of spending by either national committee was $298,989 by the DNC to Avalon Caterers, which buys a lot of boiled shrimp. The caterer's satisfied clients, according to Avalon's Web site, include such blue-collar favorites as ExxonMobil Corp., Air Bus Industrie of North America and mega-defense contractor SAIC, as well as The Washington Post and CBS.

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