Palin's Spending Spree Sheds Light on Campaign's Priorities

RNC puts $150k of lipstick on pitbull Palin. What will it mean for campaign?

October 22, 2008, 4:13 PM

October 22, 2008— -- Gov. Sarah Palin brags that she's not a member of the Washington elite, but she sure is dressing like them.

Campaign finance documents show the Republican Party spent more than $150,000 on clothing and accessories for the vice presidential candidate and her family at a series of swank department stores, the sort of places that "Joe Six-Pack" probably could not afford.

"She's a Saks-Fifth-Avenue-Neiman-Marcus hockey mom," cracked veteran Democratic strategist and ABC News consultant Donna Brazile.

The GOP-financed shopping spree seems destined to be material for late night comedians. While she is not the first politician to use donations from political supporters on personal expenditures, it appears that she has spent more on clothing and makeup in a shorter period of time than any other candidate in history.

With just 13 days remaining in the campaign, the Republican camp is playing the spree down and Democrats are pouncing on what they see as Palin's rich tastes while appealing to hockey moms and their families.

"Let Gov. Palin and the RNC continue to spend money as Americans lose their retirement funds, life savings, pensions and homes.  She will soon become a symbol of 'all dressed up and nowhere to go,'" Brazile said.

As first reported by, Palin spent $49,425.74 at Saks Fifth Avenue stores in St. Louis and New York. In September, the party spent $75,062.63 on a shopping spree at Neiman Marcus in Minnesota, just before the Republican National Convention.

Katherine Nelson, director of public relations at the Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, said the store would not comment on its customers' purchases.

The RNC also spent $4,716.49 on hair and makeup in September, presumably for Palin.

Purchases were also made at Barney's ($789.72) and Bloomingdale's ($5,102.71) in New York, and, around the time of the Republican National Convention, at Macy's in Minneapolis ($9,447.71).

Some $196 was spent at a tony baby store call Pacifier. Palin has a 6-month-old baby. An additional $4,902.45 was spent at Atelier, a men's clothing store.

The flap is the latest in a series of embarrassing flare-ups for Palin. As governor of Alaska, she allegedly fired an official who refused to sack her former brother-in-law, an Alaska state trooper, and used state funding to allow her children to travel with her.

During the primaries last year, Democrat John Edwards was pilloried after he disclosed that he spent $400 apiece on two haircuts.

Sen. Hillary Clinton Learned Her Lesson

In 2006, Sen. Hillary Clinton was slammed for spending $3,000 on two hair-styling appointments. She later made a point in her presidential campaign not to use donations on similar expenditures.

The John McCain campaign would not comment further on Palin's shopping spree but told Politco that the clothing would be donated after the election.

"With all of the important issues facing the country right now, it's remarkable that we're spending time talking about pantsuits and blouses," spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt told the Web site. "It was always the intent that the clothing go to a charitable purpose after the campaign."

A spokesman for Sen. Barack Obama said no donations had been used to clothe the candidate, his running mate Joe Biden or their families.

"Neither the DNC nor the Obama campaign has bought any clothing or accessories for any of the Obamas or the Bidens," said Nick Shapiro, an Obama campaign spokesman.

Democrats used news of the shopping trips to cast doubts on whether the Republicans were in touch with the real economic problems facing Americans.

"I've never heard of candidates using money from donors to outfit candidates or their families," Brazile said. "Women get scrutinized a great deal more than men and the media obsess over what women wear."

With all that added attention, female candidates project a message through their clothing, Brazile said. "Palin's style is also part of her message," she said.

Republican strategist Greg Mueller said he did not believe news of Palin's new wardrobe would hurt her reputation.

"I don't think it will have any bearing on what people think," he said. "Palin has struck a chord with middle America. She has warmed to the crowds and the crowds have warmed to her. The RNC spending money on clothes won't have any resonance beyond the Washington Beltway and the New York media."

But in terms of strategy, Mueller said that money could have been much better spent.

"I would have much rather seen this money being spent on ads," he said. "Right now we're being outspent $6 million to $85 million by the Obama campaign."

Palin's Shopping Was Legal, but Was It Practical?

Though it would be illegal, under the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, for the campaign to pay for the purchases, it is legal for political parties to foot the bill.

"The party committee has much greater latitude," Kenneth Gross, a federal election lawyer, told ABC "I think it is permissible for the party committee to make that judgment."

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