Could Topless Nightclub Expense Cost the RNC More than $2K?

Michael Steele

The Republican National Committee's latest embarrassment over spending nearly $2,000 for a night at a topless nightclub isn't likely to end the career of RNC Chair Michael Steele, but it could have an impact on the committee's fundraising and its image among party loyalists.

The RNC quickly fired the staffer who expensed an outing with GOP donors to a bondage-themed club, but the committee this week has also had to defend its chairman, who first came under scrutiny for the expense because of the wording in an article from the Daily Caller, the news site that broke the story.

On's Washington Unplugged today, Daily Caller publisher Neil Patel said his site's phrasing was justified because there was no clear indication from official financial reports whether Steele was privy to the seedy outing, and the RNC refused to give the Daily Caller any more details than were publicly available.

Indeed, whether or not Steele was directly involved with the incident at the nightclub -- which he was definitely not, the RNC says -- he serves as the face of the committee and will therefore take the heat for it. The spotlight remains on Steele over this incident because it is just one of many that Republican operatives could point to as a sign of poor leadership.

"What happened at the nightclub was embarrassing, but these types of things will occasionally happen at organizations with hundreds of employees," Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and a former Republican political operative, told Hotsheet. "The problem with the RNC is it's not seen as an aberration... it's seen as a reflection of an organization that's not being run well."

Steele has come under fire for a number of other controversial incidents: Earlier this year, Steele said Republicans would not win back the House in the fall midterm elections. His book tour caused some Republicans to wonder he was more interested in promoting himself or the party. Some GOP leaders criticized Steele for holding a Republican winter retreat in Hawaii in the middle of a dismal economic climate. The RNC also came under fire for a fundraising presentation that used crude caricatures to depict Democrats.

Republican "insiders" expressed their dissatisfaction with Steele in an unofficial poll conducted by National Journal, in which 71 percent of the 104 Republicans polled called Steele a "liability" to the party. Only 20 percent called him an asset.

Still, it would be difficult to oust Steele before his two-year term as chairman is up in January of next year: two thirds of the RNC would have to vote in favor of ousting him. In January of this year, Steele indicated he would be interested in serving another term -- or "as long as the members will have me," he said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The controversy surrounding Steele may not matter to voters directly, especially in a year in which Republicans are expected to gain from voter dissatisfaction over issues like health care. It may, however, impact GOP fundraising, which is one of Steele's primary responsibilities as committee chairman.

"The impact is less direct but just as important," Schnur said. "If the party's contributors aren't writing checks because of their concern, then that's a real problem."

This latest report, highlighting some of the committee's extravagant expenses, could particularly resonate with donors.

"If you are giving a political party your hard-earned money, you should have no doubts that it is going to be spent as advertised and not to provide a spoiled, egocentric, out-of-touch chairman with frivolous luxuries which are out of reach of the vast majority of the American people," Douglas MacKinnon, former press secretary to Majority Leader Robert Dole, told the Huffington Post.