Sarah Palin's PAC, like her TV career, on the wane

Former VP candidate's political fund spent little on candidates

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Like her television career, Sarah Palin’s political action committee — once a veritable money machine fueling the former Republican vice presidential nominee’s ambitions — has entered the doldrums.

SarahPAC has this year depleted much of its once prodigious cash reserve, spending about a quarter-million dollars more than it raised, new filings with the Federal Election Commission indicate.

SarahPAC’s financial malaise coincides with Palin’s own star power dimming: Fox News in June declined to renew Palin’s contract as a commentator, and the Sarah Palin Channel, a subscription-based online TV feed Palin launched in 2014, is going dark this week.

While SarahPAC’s $562,000 cash-on-hand figure is better than what most political committees could boast, it’s the PAC’s lowest total since mid-2009, the year Palin founded the operation. Since late 2009, SarahPAC has almost always carried more than $1 million on its books and never less than $800,000.

So where’d the money go?

Unlike many political action committees, very little of the $753,000 it spent from Jan. 1 to June 30 went directly to political candidates and committees.

Instead, SarahPAC’s top expenditures largely helped fortify its own existence — or help Palin personally.

Federal rules governing spending by “leadership PACs” — committees run by current or former elected officials — are notoriously permissive, with both Democrats and Republicans regularly using the cash to fund lavish travel, pricey gifts or just about any other self-indulgent expense.

Top SarahPAC expenditures include:

  • $230,250 on consultants, including $80,500 to longtime aide and PAC treasurer Timothy Crawford

  • $139,932 on direct mail, produced by conservative fundraising firm HSP Direct

  • $128,482 on postage, printing and related supplies

  • $82,213 on travel and accommodations, including airfare, hotels, car and SUV rentals, travel agents and taxis. The Waldorf Astoria in New York City ($4,562) and Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas ($797) were two particularly pricey hotel choices. The $3,854 SarahPAC paid a New York-based limousine company came on Feb. 19, right after Palin appeared at the staging of Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary special, where she sat in the audience next to musician Taylor Swift.

  • $48,000 on speech writing, mostly to Aries Petra Consulting, a small limited liability company registered in Virginia and based in Los Angeles

  • $37,354 on Internet fundraising through Austin, Texas-based Harris Media LLC, which works for numerous conservative politicians

SarahPAC spent $25,000 on candidate contributions during the first half of 2015 — less than 4 percent of its overall expenditures.

Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas; Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.; Raul Labrador, R-Idaho; and Ted Yoho, R-Fla., are among the 43 candidates to receive SarahPAC cash so far this year, with most getting $500 — the per-election federal limit is $2,700.

Palin’s PAC has never given more than a small fraction of its income away to Republicans it supports.

Its recent pitches to potential donors, however, suggest that a contributor’s cash will be used to “fight against the liberals like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders,” or “stop the illegal invasion,” or help “defund and investigate Planned Parenthood.”

“Congress can squash a bad Iran deal and it’s time to let them know how you feel!” reads a SarahPAC email sent to supporters on July 14. “Donate $15 so we can use our influence to stop this bad deal! … Donate now to crush this BAD IRAN DEAL!”

People identifying as retirees composed the majority of SarahPAC’s major donors — those giving more than $200 — during 2015, federal records show.

But major donors aren’t the driving force behind Sarah PAC: More than three-fourths of the money it raised from January to June came from people giving $200 or less.

A primary reason? Despite her PAC’s financial decline, Palin still commands a loyal following, particularly on social media.

An avid Facebook user, 4.4 million people have “liked” her page, where she regularly posts about SarahPAC.

“YOU are the success of SarahPAC!” Palin wrote her Facebook friends on June 29. “Thanks to your support, SarahPAC has grown to become one of the strongest forces within conservative politics. Together we are working hard to support and elect conservative leaders who will fight for what's right in America!”

Crawford, SarahPAC’s treasurer, did not immediately return requests for comment about the PAC’s fundraising. The PAC did not reply to a request to its media line.

This story was co-published with Slate.

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