Complaint over Palin wardrobe during VP campaign dismissed

PARTY FUNDS: $150,000 spent on VP candidate wasn't seen as using campaign money for personal gain.

May 19, 2009 

The Federal Election Commission has dismissed a complaint over the clothes and accessories purchased for Gov. Sarah Palin and her family on the campaign trail.

The Republican National Committee bought designer outfits during Palin's vice presidential run last fall. Wardrobe and related expenses reportedly ran more than $150,000 and included purchases from Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.

The group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed the complaint against the RNC and Palin, who has said she didn't authorize or approve of the spending.

CREW argued it violated a ban on campaign money going for personal use. The Federal Election Commission disagreed in a ruling made public Tuesday.

The ruling said the ban applies to money raised by candidates -- not to political party expenses.

"The RNC states that it used its own funds to make the expenditures for the clothing and accessories. ... We have no information to the contrary. As such, no candidate funds were converted to 'personal use,' " it said.

Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, argued the commission's decision opens the door for political parties to buy lavish wardrobes for candidates to use, and that contributes to the public's cynicism about politicians.

"It's typical of the FEC to never take on anybody for anything," Sloan said. "It seems like the kind of thing they should have come down on, but they seem to think their hands are tied."

CREW, which has described itself as a "progressive" but nonpartisan organization, noted the Federal Election Commission requested in March that Congress expand the ban on personal use of campaign funds to include party money.

CREW posted a message on its Web site that said "despite the fact that Governor Palin and the RNC claimed the clothing would be donated to charity, it is not clear this ever happened, and in any event, according to the FEC, the law does not require it."

Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton said the governor gave the Republican National Committee back everything it provided her during the campaign down "to the painstaking detail, the smallest of items to the largest of items."

"The clothes in this campaign were treated just like the many stages upon which the Governor stood and the hundreds of lights used to illuminate them; all were used during the campaign and returned upon its conclusion," Stapleton said.

Stapleton said in an interview that, to her knowledge, the Republican National Committee donated all of the returned items to charity. RNC spokesman Doug Mayer did not respond to questions about whether that is the case.

Stapleton has called the clothing purchases "financially poor decisions made by campaign staffers." She questioned the figure of $150,000, saying many items were sent back to the store and others never went to Palin or her family.

EXPENSIVE DUDS

The purchases included $75,062 worth at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis; $49,425 at Saks Fifth Avenue; $9,447 at Macy's; and $789 at the luxury retailer Barneys New York. Goods were also bought for Palin family members, such as $4,902 spent at upscale men's store Atelier and $92 at Pacifier, a Minneapolis baby boutique

A campaign finance debate over the clothes is also happening on the state level. Anchorage activist Andree McLeod complains Palin failed to include the clothes, hair or makeup expenses on her state disclosure form. She said Palin was Alaska's governor at the time and clearly benefited from the gifts, so she must disclose them.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission isn't saying she should, but testimony from McLeod has prompted APOC to send Palin a letter asking if she has any other gifts to report.

Stapleton said Palin received advice from the Alaska Department of Law that those aren't gifts to be itemized to the state. They are campaign expenses instead, Stapleton said.

Palin included a note in her state financial disclosure report making a broad reference to campaign expenses that "have been reported through either the RNC or the McCain/Palin campaign as an expense and therefore are not defined as a gift."


Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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