Thursday, October 23, 2008

Extreme Makeover: The Sarah Palin Edition -- But Some Big GOP Donors Don't Like It

Republican National Committee Spends $150,000 on New Wardrobe for Alaska Governor and Her Family, But Some Question its Legality Under '02 Campaign-Finance Law that McCain Co-Authored

Republican vice presidential nominee Alaska Governor Sarah Palin ...

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin leaves with husband Todd (left) and daughters Willow and Piper (right), carrying son Trig, after the vice presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis on October 2. Several big Republican donors are questioning the GOP national Committee spending $150,000 for a new wardrobe for the Alaska governor and her family. (Photo: Rick Wilking/Reuters)


The Associated Press

Who knew looking like a hockey mom was this darned expensive? Certainly not Wanda Routier, a proud hockey mom in Hewitt, Wisconsin, who spends her time in sweat pants, turtlenecks, ankle boots and heavy coats.

She was dismayed to hear Wednesday that the Republican Party had spent $150,000 on clothes, hair styling and accessories for Sarah Palin and her family from such upscale stores as Saks Fifth Avenue and Nieman Marcus.

"I was put off by it," Routier said. "I mean I know they have an image to project, but that's a lot of money when we're talking about the economy the way it is! And the burden on ordinary Americans."

But another hockey mom defended Palin. "I can certainly imagine her clothes would cost that much," said Page Growney, a mother of four in upscale New Canaan, Conn. "What did you want to see her in, a turtleneck from L.L. Bean?"


The Republican National Committee’s $150,000 investment in Palin’s wardrobe has prompted some teeth gnashing among the party’s big donors about its political sensibility and a feisty debate among campaign finance specialists about its legality.

“As a Republican Eagle and a maxed-out contributor to McCain’s general campaign, I’d like my money back – he can still have my vote,” complained one irate donor on Tuesday.

“I’m not one who says a candidate shouldn’t wear fine clothes,” he added. “I’d just like to think they were successful enough in the private sector to have afforded their wardrobe with their own money, not the party’s or the campaign’s, which is really our money as contributors.”

Another big donor was sympathetic to the effort, but critical of the execution.

The Alaska governor was tapped by GOP presidential nominee John McCain as his vice presidential running mate just days before the Republican National Convention in Minnesota, the donor noted.


As much of the world knows, Palin introduced herself at the GOP convention -- in what's been widely reported to be a $2,500 Valentino jacket -- as a "regular hockey mom," and boasted of having saved Alaska's taxpayers "over-the-top" expenditures like her luxury jet, her personal chef, even the ride to work.

She has often talked of "real Americans" and "Joe Six-Pack" and projected a folksy demeanor in her vice presidential debate. "Let's do what our parents told us before we probably even got that first credit card," she said in that debate. "Don't live outside of our means."

The average U.S. household spent $1,874 on clothes and services in 2006, the last year for which figures are available from the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So her detractors were naturally having a field day with the revelations, first reported on They included a whopping $75,062 shopping spree at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, one for $49,425 from Saks Fifth Avenue, $4,902 at Atelier, a stylish men's store, and even a $92 romper and matching hat with ears for baby Trig at Pacifier, a Minneapolis baby store.

"Nothing says Main Street quite like Saks Fifth Avenue," wrote David Kurtz at Talking Points Added AmericaBlog's John Aravosis: "Gee, Marshall's and Target are too good for Mrs. Joe Six-Pack?"


The episode naturally raised questions about the propriety of using party money for such expenses. The Republican National Committee said the clothes belong to the committee, while John McCain's campaign said the clothing would go to a "charitable purpose" after the campaign. It also sought to deflect the issue by criticizing the media attention.

"With all of the important issues facing the country right now, it's remarkable that we're spending time talking about pantsuits and blouses," said McCain spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt.

But many thought the remarkable thing was the expenditures themselves, which also raised a cultural and sartorial question: Can a candidate who portrays herself as a woman of the people spend this much on clothes and remain credible?

"She presents herself as Josephine Six-Pack, and I'll tell you this, Josephine Six-Pack wouldn't spend $150,000 on her wardrobe," said Lesley Jane Seymour, editor-in-chief of More magazine. "I'm all for 'shop 'til you drop.' But to be spending profligately when you're saying you're just one of the people - well, that's just bad marketing."

"Listen, you can walk into H&M and get three wardrobes for $500 to $1,000, and you're done," Seymour added.


That rings true to another hockey mom, Adina Ellick of Chappaqua, N.Y. "If I spend $1,000 on clothes in a year, it's a lot," said Ellick, 43. "Usually I'm sitting at a freezing hockey game in fleece pants and a pullover sweat shirt and a blanket over my head!" She said she was "offended" by news of the expenditures.

One stylist, though, thought $150,000 was not excessive for a woman in such a prominent place.
"Everything is relative," said Gretta Monahan, fashion adviser on "The Rachael Ray Show."

"Sarah Palin's goal is to be the vice president of the United States and that's a pretty damned big job. The better your image is, the better people will receive you."

If Palin's $2,500 Valentino jacket seems expensive, consider that Barack Obama wears Hart Schaffner Marx suits that retail for about $1,500. John McCain consistently wears $520 Salvatore Ferragamo loafers, while Vanity Fair editors estimated that one outfit worn by Cindy McCain cost $313,100, including diamond earrings and pearl necklace.


The immediate question for the McCain campaign, however, is whether the expenses were justified in the first place.

The 2002 campaign finance law co-authored by McCain and fellow Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) specifically barred any funds "donated for the purpose of supporting the activities of a federal or state office holder" from being used for personal expenses, including clothing. A quirk in the law does not specifically mention party committees, however.

Fifteen years ago, McCain himself complained that restrictions on political contributions for personal use at that time were too broad and he wrote an amendment to tighten the law.

"The use of campaign funds for items which most Americans would consider to be strictly personal reasons, in my view, erodes public confidence and erodes it significantly," he said in May 1993.

Most of the expenses for Palin were initially incurred by Jeff Larson, a Republican consultant who was the CEO of the host committee for the Republican National Convention. Federal Election Commission records show that the RNC reimbursed Larson for the expenses -- a total of $132,457.

Larson is a partner with FLS Connect, a firm hired by the McCain campaign and the RNC to undertake a phone calling campaign on behalf of McCain. Media reports have linked the firm to negative calls aimed at Democratic nominee Barack Obama. Ironically, Larson's previous company worked for George W. Bush's 2000 campaign, conducting phone calls in South Carolina opposing McCain.

Larson's office referred calls to the RNC. A committee spokesman said only that the RNC has acted properly in reimbursing Larson.

The fuzzy part in the Palin case is that the RNC used money from an account designated for “coordinated,” or shared, expenditures with the McCain-Palin candidate account.

The Federal Election Commission, which interprets federal campaign finance laws, has never been asked to address this issue. And legal experts say the key question is: From which side of the joint account was the money drawn?

Noting that the expenses were reported by the RNC and not the McCain-Palin campaign, Ken Gross, a law partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom who advises corporations on campaign finance laws, concluded: “The bottom line is that this is party committee money. These are not campaign funds.”


Wiley Rein lawyer Jan Baran, an adviser to several Republican candidates and committees, agreed with Gross, but added that the Palins may still be forced to comply with tax laws.

“The receipt of goods and services by the taxpayer usually constitutes reportable ‘income’,” Baran said. Consequently, Palin may have to declare the value of the fashion gifts as income and pay taxes on it.

“She might be able to offset some of the taxes by donating the items to charity after the campaign, Baran said, “although she will only be able to deduct the fair market value at that time.”

The campaign said Monday that Palin intends to donate the clothes to charity after the election.

In 2007, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards sparked derision after his campaign paid for two $400 haircuts. His campaign said they paid the bill by mistake and that Edwards would reimburse the campaign.

As for Obama, his campaign says it has paid for hair and makeup costs associated with interviews or events, but neither the campaign nor the DNC has paid for clothing.

(Additional reporting by

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Volume III, Number 69
Special Report Copyright 2008, The Associated Press.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All Rights Reserved.


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Monday, October 20, 2008


Two Days After McCain Tells His Supporters to be 'More Respectful' of His Opponent, Palin Again Stokes Fear and Loathing Against Obama by Branding Him a 'Terrorist Sympathizer' at Ohio Rally -- TV News Reporter Captures Palin Supporters Making Blatantly Racist Remarks Against the Democratic Nominee

In a shocking report from an October 12 Sarah Palin campaign rally in Ohio broadcast on the English-language international channel of the Qatar-based Aljazeera news network, several Palin supporters told reporter Casey Kauffman what they really thought about Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama -- in blatantly racist terms, with one man even invoking the infamous N-word against the African-American Illinois senator. Not only did Palin make no attempt to stem the feelings of ill will toward Obama -- as John McCain had done two days earlier in Minnesota -- she actually stoked the hateful feelings by branding him one "who sympathizes with terrorists." The hatred wasn't limited to Obama himself: Kauffman also interviewed an Obama supporter who staged a protest outside the rally who said that he, too, was called the N-word -- even though he's white. (Image courtesy

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, October 20, 2008)
(Updated 6:00 p.m. EDT Tuesday, October 21, 2008)


Dear Readers:

It has often been said that one can judge a person by the company he or she keeps. In the case of Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, the company she is keeping has caused this blogger to sound a very loud alarm that the Alaska governor is a dangerous, fearmongering demagogue totally unfit to be situated a heartbeat away from the most powerful job in the world.

On Friday, I made a discovery on YouTube that disturbed me to a great degree. In fact, it did much more than disturb me; it made me both very fearful and very angry at the same time.




At an October 12 rally in Ohio for Palin, Casey Kauffman, a reporter for the English-language international channel of the Qatar-based Aljazeera news network, interviewed several Palin supporters for their thoughts on Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

What came out of their mouths was utterly shocking.

Apparently aware that Aljazeera's English-language channel is largely unavailable for viewing in the United States -- save for a couple of cable systems, its live Web stream and a dedicated channel on YouTube -- these Palin supporters gave Kauffman an earful of blatantly racist remarks against the African-American senator from Illinois that they likely would never have told a reporter for an American TV network.

"I'm afraid if he [Obama] wins, the blacks will take over!" a silver-haired white woman told Kauffman. Stubbornly clinging to the false belief that the Illinois senator is a Muslim -- when, in fact, he is a Christian -- the woman angrily insisted, "He's not a Christian! This is a Christian nation! What is our culture gonna end up like?"

It gets worse. Much worse.

A middle-aged white man whom Kauffman interviewed made no attempt to hide his contempt for Obama because of the fact that the Democratic nominee is black. "When you've got a nigger running for president, he ain't a first-stringer," he said. "He's definitely a second-stringer."

No, that's not a typographical error. This man boldly and unapologetically called Obama the infamous N-word.

One woman expressed a fear that Obama and his wife, Michelle, might be secretly "anti-white." Another woman told Kauffman this comment about Obama: "I don't like the fact that he thinks us white people are trash -- because we're not!"

These comments were uttered at what was supposed to be a rally for Sarah Palin. As it was, the crowd was predominantly middle-aged and older, predominantly male and -- most tellingly -- exclusively white.

If you closed your eyes while listening to these comments, you'd think they were being made at a gathering of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists, rather than at a rally for the GOP vice-presidential nominee. This blogger seriously doubts that anyone would have dared to say out loud what they really thought of Obama if there were any nonwhite people, especially blacks, present.

Indeed, Kauffman interviewed an Obama supporter -- a white man who lives in the area -- who told him that as he was holding up his Obama sign at the entrance to the rally site, several Palin supporters shouted the N-word and other epithets at him ("Baby killer!") as they passed by in their cars.

"I'm really scared of what's going on here," the unidentified man told Kauffman. "I'm scared that one of these people could be crazy enough to try to harm Obama."

That Aljazeera had the guts to broadcast those venomous remarks uncensored -- when neither of the big three American cable news channels (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) nor any of the big three over-the-air American TV networks (ABC, CBS or NBC) would do so -- speaks volumes not only about what caliber of people Palin is attracting, but also the sorry state of the mainstream American news media in their abject failure to report this part of the Palin story.

It is noteworthy that this rally took place a week ago Sunday -- a full two days after Republican presidential nominee John McCain found himself confronted with open bigotry against Obama at his own town hall-style campaign stop in Minnesota.

To his credit, McCain challenged his supporters to be more respectful of his opponent -- even in the face of a chorus of boos. What did Palin do to hold her supporters to the same standard?

Nothing -- Zero, zip, zilch, nada.

To the contrary, she did the exact opposite: She stoked the crowd into a frenzy of contempt against the Illinois senator by saying, "We know who the bad guys are," referring to terrorists. At Palin's mention of "bad guys," the crowd shouted, "Obama!"

Did Palin cut them off? No. Did she tell her supporters to be more respectful of the Democratic nominee, as McCain did two days earlier? Absolutely not.

Rather, the Alaska governor continued: "Those who sympathize and support those terrorists who would seek to destroy all that it is that we value -- those are the bad guys, OK?"

Palin's implication was clear: Obama was, in her mind, a "bad guy." A terrorist sympathizer. An enemy of America. A traitor.

Palin obviously wasn't the only one at the rally who felt that way, as one man told Aljazeera's Kauffman his belief that Obama "is related to a known terrorist and is a supporter of terrorists."

Remember that it was Palin -- not McCain -- who accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists," referring to Obama's relationship to former 1960s radical William Ayres.

But although McCain did bring up Ayres at last Wednesday's final presidential debate, McCain made it clear that he didn't much care about "a washed-up '60s radical" like Ayres.

Never once has Palin referred to Ayres as an "old '60s radical." Rather, she's always used the word "terrorist" to describe him. In her mind -- and in the minds of her supporters -- Ayres is a "terrorist" in the mold of al-Qaida and other Muslim extremists.

Anyone who's familiar with recent American history knows that except for the Black Panthers, the domestic radicals of the 1960s were mostly middle-class white kids. Say "'60's radical," and the mind immediately conjures up the image of a long-haired, bearded white guy like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin -- or William Ayres.

Say "terrorist" on the the other hand, and the mind immediately conjures up the image of a dark-skinned Middle Easterner like Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- or Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The only thing that Barack Obama has in common with al-Qaida terrorists is that he has the same skin complexion they have.

Palin is fully aware that many of Obama's opponents still believe that the Illinois senator is a Muslim. And some -- egged on by right-wing radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh -- believe that Obama isn't even African-American, but a foreign-born Arab.

That's far beyond anything that McCain would say about his opponent. Indeed, Palin's remarks were the kind one would have expected more than 50 years ago from Senator Joe McCarthy about the "Communist menace." Indeed, McCarthy would be very proud of her.

Sarah Palin is deliberately playing to xenophobia toward the foreign-born as well as Afrophobia toward Americans of African descent. As far as this blogger is concerned, Sarah Palin has crossed the line into the kind of demagoguery that flirts dangerously with outright fascism.

That makes her totally unfit to serve as our country's next vice president -- a heartbeat away from the presidency.

I'm not the only one who's noticed this. So has Representative John Lewis (D-Georgia), a veteran of the civil rights movement who experienced first hand the fear and hatred that many white people of his generation and older had toward darker-skinned people nearly half a century ago.

Lewis criticized the McCain campaign -- but especially Palin -- for whipping up racially-charged animosity toward Obama. He accused Palin of "sowing the seeds of hatred and division" and compared the feelings expressed at her campaign rallies to those of late segregationist Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace.

"As public figures with power to influence and persuade, Senator McCain and Governor Palin are playing with fire and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all," Lewis warned.

While Obama did rebuke as unfair Lewis' comparison of McCain to Wallace, he nonetheless agreed with the Georgia congressman's underlying message. And so does this blogger -- especially when it comes to Palin.

The Alaska governor has made no secret of her displeasure with McCain's ironclad ban on anyone in his campaign bringing up Obama's 20-year friendship with his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Yet McCain knew full well that to bring up Wright now would be racially inflammatory.

Unlike Palin, McCain is clearly determined not to be cast as a racist. Unfortunately for him, McCain is stuck with the Alaska governor.

It's much too late for the Arizona senator to boot Palin from the GOP ticket; not only is her name on the ballot in all 50 states, but it's logistically impossible to reassemble the GOP convention to pick a replacement for her. By now, it should be abundantly clear that Palin has become a serious liability to McCain and, ultimately, to the Republican Party.

By choosing Palin to be his running mate -- instead of a more highly respected Republican woman such as Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine or Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina -- McCain made the single worst mistake of his entire campaign.

But I understand why McCain did it: He had to appease the far right wing of his party who to this day remains suspicious of him -- and, unfortunately, is firmly in control of the GOP.

Little did anyone realize at the time McCain chose Palin in August just how much of a fearmongering demagogue she really is.

To borrow Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign slogan, "This time, vote like your whole world depended on it" -- because it does. For the sake of our country -- and the world -- the McCain-Palin ticket must be defeated at all costs.

Skeeter Sanders
Editor & Publisher
The 'Skeeter Bites Report

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Volume III, Number 67
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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