Michael Steele, big spender

Latest report on RNC chair's spending habits has him in private jets, at strip club

Published March 29, 2010 3:20PM (EDT)

Under Michael Steele's leadership, the Republican National Committee just hasn't been able to avoid persistent money troubles. It's not that the RNC isn't raising money, either -- donations keep coming in. It's that as fast as they raise money, Steele spends it. So more than a few times, Steele's enemies within the party have gone to the press with evidence of the RNC chair's profligate ways. Now, it seems to have happened again, and it's worse than ever before.

The Daily Caller (Tucker Carlson's new Web site) reports that Steele has raised the possibility of buying a private jet for him to use. And though that hasn't happened, the RNC's apparently still spent quite a bit on private planes -- $17,514 in February alone. That's on top of $12,691 for limos the same month. Plus, there's the $1,946.25 spent at Voyeur West Hollywood, which the Daily Caller describes as "a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex." (The RNC's socially conservative donors should love that.)

This all goes back to something I wrote about when Steele was first elected to his post: His politics are exactly what the RNC needs right now --- it's the man himself who's the issue. These problems fall into a pattern with Steele; he had serious problems as a businessman, and has a history of personal money troubles.

Update: An RNC spokesperson denies that it was Steele who visited Voyeur West Hollywood.

Update 2: A colleague takes issue with my praising Steele's politics, which is a fair point -- though he entered his current post as something of a moderate, Steele has moved steadily rightward during his time as RNC chair. He's embraced the Tea Parties, too, and after getting a spanking from Rush Limbaugh, has cozied up to him.

But all of those are ultimately short-term issues. From a long-term perspective, Steele -- despite the degreee to which he's screwed all of this up -- is still probably the best of a bad set of options for the GOP.

It all comes down to demographics: Though the Republican Party may do well this year because of the way its base has become energized by President Obama, it still has a big demographic problem coming up. Relying on whites isn't going to be a solid electoral strategy for much longer. If the GOP is to be viable in the next few decades, it simply has to start appealing to minorities, and Steele has at least made an effort to do that.

Separately, as a former RNC official argued to me the last time Steele's financial management issues hit the press, spending stories like this are embarrassing, but ultimately perhaps not as big of a deal as they're made out to be. Yes, under Steele, the party is spending more money than it might usually, but it's also bringing in money, and ultimately the measure of his success as chairman is electoral victories. So far, he's got a good record on that score.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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