Back in 2010, RNC Chair Michael Steele was heavily criticized and eventually lost his position because donors were angry about what they believed was luxurious spending on private jets, floral arrangements, chauffeur services, and member meetings in expensive tropical locales. Donors were used to frugality from the RNC under the George W. Bush administration, when “Karl Rove would bitch if there were flowers on the tables” and staff holiday parties were catered by Chick-fil-A.
Despite Joe Biden’s economy and three straight cycles of election losses, the RNC’s big-spending days are back with a vengeance.
Perhaps because of these losses both RNC donors and committee members are intensely interested in the committee’s finances, particularly the spending. Late last week, RedState was provided a report dated October 7, 2022 that examined RNC’s 2021-22 spending. It calculated more than $500,000 in private jet expenses, $64,000 at clothing retailers, and $321,000 in floral arrangements.
To determine how that compared with the rest of Ronna McDaniel’s tenure, RedState examined RNC expenditures from 2017 through 2022. In addition to a review of Federal Elections Commission (FEC) data, RedState spoke with current vendors, state party officials familiar with the workings, former staffers (some from McDaniel’s tenure, and some who worked for prior chairs), and several current RNC members to verify numbers and dates. Most were only willing to discuss the matters on background, and all were promised anonymity to avoid potential retaliation.
It is difficult to accurately categorize all of the expenditures because a significant number of transactions seem to be misclassified. For example, nearly $5,000 spent in 2022 at Lululemon, a luxury athletic apparel brand, was classified as “office expense,” as were two expenditures totaling $9,300 at Madison Square Garden in 2017.
Our review found that the amounts spent during the 2021-22 election cycle seem to have been par for the course and possibly even lower than previous portions of McDaniel’s tenure. According to FEC filings, since 2017, the RNC has spent:
- $3.1 million on private jet services
- $1.3 million on limousine/chauffeur services
- $17.1 million on donor mementos
- $750,000 on floral arrangements
- $80,000 in alcohol-related expenditures
Nearly $400,000 has been spent on event tickets and other entertainment activities, including $30,000 for a private box at a Las Vegas Raiders game, $13,000 for Broadway shows, $9,400 at Madison Square Garden, and $43,000 at Top Golf locations in Texas, Nevada, Virginia, and Maryland.
According to a senior staffer, the private box Raiders game was part of a retreat for senior staff members. RNC funds were also used to fly the senior staffers and their plus-ones first-class to Las Vegas, and for their hotel rooms, food, and alcohol, the staffer says.
Senior staff retreats were also held at the Salamander Resort & Spa in Virginia in 2021 and 2022, according to another staffer. A national committee member says that at the 2021 retreat, held from March 19-21, 30 senior staffers and their families attended, and the RNC paid for Katie Walsh and Mike Shields to speak to the group. FEC reporting shows that the RNC paid $260,000 to the resort in 2021 and 2022, classified as travel expenses and venue rental and catering.
The dates of the various entertainment expenditures were provided to former staffers and national committee members, who confirmed that there were no donor events or other official RNC events occurring at those times.
Under the current leadership, the RNC has spent more than $150,000 on what could be considered non-essential office expenses, including $25,000 on Commonwealth Joe coffee, $7,000 on cupcakes, nearly $7,000 on candles and diffusers, and $75,000 total at Pottery Barn, West Elm, Restoration Hardware, and Crate & Barrel. In addition, the committee’s FEC reports show expenditures totaling $381,000 classified as “Furniture Expense” during the same time frame.
More than $100,000 was spent at high-end clothing stores such as Rhoback, REI, Nordstrom, Vineyard Vines, Footjoy, Ralph Lauren, Carhartt, and Smathers & Branson. An RNC vendor tells RedState that the Vineyard Vines expense ($12,000) was likely for embroidered jackets RNC staffers recently received.
According to the financials, the RNC is quite generous to its donors, spending $17 million on donor mementos – and possibly more – during McDaniel’s tenure. Custom pins by legendary DC jeweler Ann Hand and Christmas ornaments from Chemart (the company that makes the White House Christmas ornaments) are listed as donor memento expenses, but the financials also include $65,000 in office supplies from Ann Hand and $28,000 from Chemart.
The records also include more than $100,000 in hair/makeup services and dry cleaning expenses, which presumably are for McDaniel’s media appearances and wardrobe. Dry cleaning expenses are categorized mainly as office supplies or travel expenses, while the hair/makeup services are categorized as media preparation.
For perspective, the Democratic National Committee has spent $1.5 million on donor gifts, $35,000 on private jets, and only $1,000 for floral arrangements during the 2021-22 election cycle. Longtime RNC committee members who spoke with RedState said that other than during Michael Steele’s time as chair, it has not been standard practice for the chair to use private jet or chauffeur services.
A committee member who spoke to RedState on condition of anonymity said, “We are only provided with top line financial numbers during our meetings, with no specificity, and when I’ve asked the budget chair for more information, he has been unable to provide it.” The member added that there is general frustration about the lack of financial transparency among committee members, but that members who demand more information are labeled as troublemakers.
Major donors who are learning of the expenditures are understandably upset about how their contributions are being spent. Country music star and RNC donor John Rich, who has been openly critical of the RNC’s expenditures and of McDaniel herself, tells RedState:
“The leadership of the RNC has taken advantage of millions of regular, everyday Conservatives by pretending to support what Patriots support, but in reality, are blowing untold troves of cash on extravagant nonsense, and supporting RINO candidates while ignoring America First contenders. They are nothing more than controlled opposition. The RNC ran ads in 2021 raising money under the phrase ‘Fight for Trump!’ while simultaneously telling Trump and his team to ‘stand down’ from questioning the election results, stating he was ‘ruining the party.’
“The RNC has betrayed its supporters, and I for one will never help them raise another red cent until the Judas elements of the organization have been purged.”
McDaniel did not reply to RedState’s request for comment prior to publication.
UPDATE December 15, 2022, 2:00 AM Eastern
Emma Vaughn, an RNC employee and spokesperson for McDaniel’s re-election campaign, provided the following statement to RedState, which has been published in full:
A client of Harmeet Dhillon decided to publish a hit piece in the middle of the night without making a serious attempt to engage with the RNC or Chairwoman McDaniel’s team. This blog post is as blatantly false as the lies she has been spreading that RNC members are being bribed for their votes. If critics want to misrepresent and push false narratives about the RNC’s spending this past cycle, they should do the math before realizing it only adds up to 0.8% of the total amount the Chairwoman raised.” – Emma Vaughn, spokesperson for Ronna McDaniel’s re-election.
(NOTE: McDaniel’s opponent in the upcoming election for RNC chair, Harmeet Dhillon, represents RedState Managing Editor Jennifer Van Laar in litigation related to former Rep. Katie Hill, and Van Laar has endorsed Dhillon in the RNC chair race.)