Booze is an "Office Supply" at the RNC

When I read that Republican National Committee staffers had expensed nearly $2000 worth of "meals" at bondage-themed Hollywood nightclub specializing in simulated lesbian sex, I knew it couldn't be an isolated incident. No one would be bold enough to expense that unless they were sure they could get away with anything--and when people think that, they usually try. Sure enough, campaign finance records showed that RNC staffers were running up very questionable expenses--like thousands of dollars worth of "office supplies" and "meals" from trendy boutiques; and hundreds of dollars worth of "office supplies" from wineries in New England and liquor stores in D.C.. You can read the whole RNC booze and threads story at AlterNet.

For this story, I interviewed campaign finance experts and an FEC spokeswoman. I was surprised to learn how few legal consequences there are for political organizations that misstate their expenses in FEC reports. Political parties have almost unlimited discretion as to how they spend their money and how they describe those expenditures to the FEC.


If the RNC wants to squander its donors' money, the government shouldn't necessarily interfere.

That said, RNC donors can't determine if their money is being spent wisely unless parties are required to report their spending accurately. A potential donor scanning an FEC report might not realize how absurd it is to think anyone spent hundreds of dollars on "meals" at the Henri Bendel boutique on 5th Avenue. If I hadn't Googled the name, I would have assumed it was a swanky restaurant and therefore a legitimate campaign expense.

The RNC didn't return my calls for comment, so I don't know if they had some legitimate campaign purpose for overpriced costume jewelry. But if they did, why hide behind a false descriptor like "meals"? Wardrobe can be a legitimate political expense, provided its reserved for public appearances, and the recipient doesn't just pocket the clothes like Sarah Palin tried to do with her >$150,000 RNC wardrobe.

It's one thing to soft-pedal your booze runs as office supplies. Provided you're using that booze for party functions, then you're just slapping a sanitized label on a legitimate expense. Even the infamous trip to the strip club was legitimate from a campaign finance point of view, despite being a PR nightmare. The staffers were apparently courting donors: These hard-driving captains of industry are not putting down cash on some vague promise of overturning Roe. Apparently, rich Republicans won't cough up the big bucks until they actually see women in bondage.

But repeated instances of writing off hundreds of dollars worth of "meals" from places that don't even sell food makes me wonder if some of these incidents are attempts to conceal something more sinister, like appropriating party money for personal use.

Aside from the creative accounting, the FEC reports painted a picture of over-the-top excess. Records show that RNC staffers constantly feasting on steaks and sushi at the nation's finest restaurants and staying in the swankiest hotels. Those expenses aren't necessarily illegitimate from a campaign finance perspective. The RNC's job is to raise money from wealthy donors and they expect to be treated like royalty. FEC reports will tell you more about a party's priorities than a thousand op/eds.

Still, the average Republican donor doesn't like the idea of Chairman Michael Steele living like a latter day Sun King at the party's expense. There's no direct evidence that Steele partook in, or authorized, any of the questionable expenses that I uncovered. However, as the Chairman, he's ultimately responsible for the the conduct of his underlings.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Herodotus’ mystery vessel turns out to have been real

Archeologists had been doubtful since no such ship had ever been found.

(Christoph Gerigk/Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)
Surprising Science
  • In 450 BCE, Greek historian Herodotus described a barge that's never been found.
  • When the ancient port of Thonis-Heracleion was discovered, some 70 sunken ships were found resting in its waters.
  • One boat, Ship 17, uncannily matches the Herodotus' description.
Keep reading Show less

Horseshoe crabs are drained for their blue blood. That practice will soon be over.

The blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested on a massive scale in order to retrieve a cell critical to medical research. However, recent innovations might make this practice obsolete.

Credit: Business Insider (video)
Surprising Science
  • Horseshoe crabs' blue blood is so valuable that a quart of it can be sold for $15,000.
  • This is because it contains a molecule that is crucial to the medical research community.
  • Today, however, new innovations have resulted in a synthetic substitute that may end the practice of farming horseshoe crabs for their blood.
Keep reading Show less

Jordan Peterson on Joe Rogan: The gender paradox and the importance of competition

The Canadian professor has been on the Joe Rogan Experience six times. There's a lot of material to discuss.

Personal Growth
  • Jordan Peterson has constantly been in the headlines for his ideas on gender over the last three years.
  • While on Joe Rogan's podcast, he explains his thoughts on the gender differences in society.
  • On another episode, Peterson discusses the development of character through competition.
Keep reading Show less