WASHINGTON: The Republican National Committee (RNC) has gone on the PR offensive to distance its chairman, Michael Steele, from reports that the RNC entertained young donors at a bondage-themed, topless Hollywood nightclub.
On March 29, political Web site The Daily Caller first reported that the RNC spent almost $2,000 at Voyeur, a risqué nightclub where topless dancers reportedly simulate lesbian sex and engage in acts of bondage. Later that day, RNC communications director Doug Heye told Fox News, as well as other media outlets, that Steele had nothing to do with the expenditure. That evening, he also issued a statement to media, which in part read “he [Steele] had no knowledge of the expenditure, nor does he find the use of committee funds at such a location at all acceptable.”
The expense was reportedly incurred by a junior staffer, who took a group of young donors to the Voyeur club and expensed the tab. She was subsequently fired over the controversy, according to internal documents obtained by various media outlets.
Heye declined to speak to PRWeek about the RNC's PR strategy.
Stan Collender, partner at Qorvis Communications (which has no affiliation to either party), said it was clear the RNC's goal was to distance the scandal from Steele. But he said the RNC did the exact opposite by not having Steele—whose leadership had already been called into question over questionable spending—address the issue himself.
“This has just re-raised all the questions about his leadership and whether he is really in control. Steele should have held a press conference, where he could have announced the firing of the staffer responsible and immediately express some extraordinary outrage. He has to think of the party's constituency—they are highly religious and must be disgusted by this,” Collender told PRWeek. “Instead he has left the issue to low-level staffers at the RNC and press releases. That has left a lot of questions unanswered.”
Heye did confirm to PRWeek that he has asked for “corrections” from The Daily Caller. The Daily Caller said it would not issue a retraction, in a post by one of its founders, well-known conservative Tucker Carlson.
While the nightclub snafu has generated the most interest from media, the Federal Election Committee filings also indicated that the RNC spent tens of thousands of dollars on private jet travel, limousine and car services, and luxury hotels.