Sarah Palin's PAC burning through cash

Alaskan spending money on self, not conservative candidates



In a blaze of rhyming, rambling glory, Sarah Palin this month glommed onto Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Trump beamed. Comedy shows rejoiced. And Palin, who's belly-up online channelkaput Fox News contract and son's domestic violence arrest rank among recent indignities, thrust herself back into lame-stream media headlines.

But the former Alaska governor's own political action committee, once prodigious, is flaming out: Palin's appetite for luxury travel and pricey consultants has depleted its cash reserves to historically low levels, a Center for Public Integrity review of new federal records indicate.

Sure, lots of political committees would love to have the $380,000 that remained in Sarah PAC’s coffers as of Dec. 31.

But not since mid-2009, just after Palin formed SarahPAC following her unsuccessful vice presidential bid, has the group’s cash stash dipped so low. It sat on $1 million as recently as mid-2014.

How’d this happen?

SarahPAC is simply burning through more money than it’s bringing in.

During 2015, SarahPAC expenditures ($1.4 million) outpaced income (about $950,000), federal records show. This, from a former politician who markets her “fiscal responsibility” bona fides and once urged lawmakers to “cut spending — don't just simply slow down a spending spree” as an elixir to the Great Recession.  

By another measure: the $457,459 SarahPAC reported raising from July 1 through Dec. 1 represents its smallest half-year haul since its formation in early 2009. 

Meanwhile, conservative politicians’ campaigns didn’t receive a dime of SarahPAC’s heavy spending during the second half of 2015. Only a handful of lawmakers directly received cash during the first half of 2015. 

This might surprise Palin supporters, who she solicits to “chip in $25 today to help us stack Congress with true conservatives” while asserting that SarahPAC is “working hard to support and elect conservative leaders.” (Prior to endorsing Trump, Palin pointed to Sen. Ted Cruz’s praise for SarahPAC as proof.)

There are other ways that PACs may support political candidates. A frequent method is “independent expenditures”— money that supports a candidate through television, radio, digital or other forms of advertising. But SarahPAC reported no independent expenditures during 2015.

SarahPAC officials did not return requests for comment.

So where did SarahPAC’s money go? Mostly toward efforts that supported Palin’s travels or helped SarahPAC sustain its own existence.

It’s expenditures from July 1 through Dec. 31 include:

  • $248,750 on various consultants, including those providing fundraising, research and “logistics” services.

  • $160,141 on fundraising, direct mail and related website management, including HSP Direct, a Virginia-based firm that describes itself as an agency that targets people who believe in the “values of conservatism, patriotism and integrity.”

  • $84,789 on postage.

  • About $48,336 on travel, lodging and related services. When Palin traveled to Washington, D.C., in September to appear at a rally alongside Trump and Cruz, her PAC covered a $4,700 bill at the Hotel George, which promises guests it’ll accommodate their every need — “even those wishes you didn’t yet know you had.” In August, while guest hosting a One America News Network show in San Diego, during which she interviewed Trump, Palin’s PAC spent $643 to put her up at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar. The resort boasts of its “unrivaled five-star/five diamond service.” SarahPAC spent thousands of dollars on vehicle rentals from companies such as BAC Transport of Alaska, which features a fleet of high-end SUVs and limousines.

  • $30,000 on two clerical staffers.

  • $29,683 to produce a video.

  • $18,000 on speechwriting. Aries Petra Consulting LLC, a small firm formed in Virginia and operating from Los Angeles, provided the services. Some political observers might argue Palin hasn’t gotten her money’s worth. Among the gems from Palin’s Trump endorsement speech: “Well, and then, funny, ha ha, not funny, but now, what they’re doing is wailing, ‘Well, Trump and his Trumpeters, they’re not conservative enough.’” And, on U.S. policy in the Middle East: “You quit footing the bill for these nations who are oil-rich, we’re paying for some of their squirmishes that have been going on for centuries. Where they’re fighting each other and yelling ‘Allahu akbar,’ calling jihad on each other’s heads forever and ever.”

  • $11,529 on legal fees and services

SarahPAC’s most dedicated donors of late 2015 — those giving more than $200 — are elderly: More than three in five such contributors listed their occupation as “retired” or some variation thereof. They are most likely to hail from California, Texas or Florida.

But small-dollar donors, who don’t have to publicly reveal who they are or what they do, provided the lion’s share of SarahPAC contributions during late 2015.

To woo them, SarahPAC offers public television-like incentives to supporters willing to make a more modest contribution.

Backers donating at least $75 receive an autographed copy of Palin’s book “Sweet Freedom: A Devotional.”

Those who give $100 take home a plush “SarahPAC mama grizzly bear” toy.

Many of those donations — $22,325 in all during the second half of 2015, federal records show — funded SarahPAC’s purchase of Palin’s own book and those grizzly bear toys.

This story was co-published with Al Jazeera America and the Huffington Post.

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