Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin spent more than $400,000 from her political action committee during the first three months of 2010, using the money donated by supporters to pay her team of advisers and cover the costs of stays in luxury hotels, flights, and even to de-ice a private jet that was shuttling her to a campaign rally.
The payments from her "leadership" PAC, called SarahPAC, are detailed in a newly released filing with the Federal Election Commission, and they lend additional insights into how the former GOP vice presidential nominee is paying for her whirl of post-governorship activities.
Much of the SarahPAC money contributed by her donors is being spent on legal and political advice. She has several consultants who help with media inquiries, and pays a former foreign policy adviser to Sen. John McCain to keep her fresh on global issues. A good portion is also going to the high-end hotels and first class travel that has become a staple of her life in the months since she left office.
Already, ABC News has estimated that Palin has earned more than $12 million through book and television deals and a packed schedule of paid speaking engagements, where she commands five and six figure fees for giving talking to corporate executives and advocacy groups.
The expenses related to those speeches are apparently billed directly to her hosts, according to documents that some California State University students said they unearthed in a dumpster on campus. And those expenses are not insubstantial – Palin flies business or first class, or by private jet, and she asks to be booked in high-end hotels.
For political appearances, the rules are no different, only the costs are often picked up by SarahPAC, which raises money mostly in small increments through individual contributions. The filing shows she stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Phoenix, Hotel Monaco in Salt Lake City, the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, and the Peninsula Hotel in New York City (where the tab came to more than $3,400).
Palin has raised about $400,000 so far this year for SarahPac, and the PAC finished the first quarter of 2010 with more than $900,000 in the bank.
Jan Baran, a campaign finance lawyer who helped George H.W. Bush form his leadership PAC in the late 1980s, said these accounts are a familiar tool for politicians who want to remain on the political main stage. Members of congress and presidential hopefuls commonly use the accounts to dole out contributions to other politicians, building loyalty and laying the groundwork for future support.
But Baran noted that plenty of politicians have also dipped into the funds to pay for their travels. He recalled that the late Sen. Edward Kennedy spent the bulk of his leadership PAC money to cover those types of expenses.
"It was used to pay for private aircraft, limousines, luxury hotels, and generally defray the expense of going around to help other candidates at events because he was in such high demand," Baran said. "Does that sound familiar?"
Tim Crawford, a spokesman for Sarah PAC, said he sees nothing out of the ordinary in the way Palin has made use of her account. As for the $7,321 de-icing expense? Crawford said as Palin prepared to depart by private jet from Dulles Airport in Washington, "there was thick stuff on the wings." They thought it wise to have it removed.