Steele’s champagne wishes and caviar dreams

STEELE’S CHAMPAGNE WISHES AND CAVIAR DREAMS…. It’s been a couple of weeks since RNC Chairman Michael Steele has been the subject of scorn. I hope he enjoyed the respite; it appears to be over.

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele is spending twice as much as his recent predecessors on private planes and paying more for limousines, catering and flowers — expenses that are infuriating the party’s major donors who say Republicans need every penny they can get for the fight to win back Congress.

Most recently, donors grumbled when Steele hired renowned chef Wolfgang Puck’s local crew to cater the RNC’s Christmas party inside the trendy Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue, and then moved its annual winter meeting from Washington to Hawaii.

For some major GOP donors, both decisions were symbolic of the kind of wasteful spending habits they claim has become endemic to his tenure at the RNC. When Ken Mehlman served as the committee chairman during the critical 2006 midterm elections, the holiday party was held in a headquarters conference room and Chic-fil-A was the caterer.

A POLITICO analysis of expenses found that compared with 2005, the last comparable year preceding a midterm election, the committee’s payments for charter flights doubled; the number of sedan contractors tripled, and meal expenses jumped from $306,000 to $599,000.

A longtime Republican fundraiser said, “Michael Steele is an imperial chairman. He flies in private aircraft. He drives in private cars. He has private consultants that are paid ridiculous retainers. He fancies himself a presidential candidate and wants all of the trappings and gets them by using other people’s money.”

Steele’s budgetary decisions have been the subject of widespread consternation for months, especially given the fact that the RNC isn’t raising the kind of money it should be with competitive midterms coming up. By one account, Steele’s spending spree in 2009 left the RNC with its worst election-year cash flow this decade.

It was easier for Steele to justify this spending when he pointed to successful gubernatorial campaigns in New Jersey and Virginia. It’s a little more difficult to justify when expense reports point to lavish spending on private planes, limousines, catering, and flowers.

And it certainly doesn’t help that Steele is simultaneously using his position to line his own pockets, most notably through his outside paid speeches and a book written in secret.

It’s far too early to say with any confidence what will happen in the 2010 elections, but if Republicans fall short of their own sky-high expectations, expect Michael Steele to get all kinds of blame.