Sarah Palin and her folksy turns of phrase returned to the stump last week, trailing amped-up Trump fans and self-serving fundraising requests in her wake.
“In order to get Sarah to political events to support endorsed candidates we need your help to fundraise her travel,” said an email from Sarah PAC after her “historic” Trump endorsement.
It’s true, travel is expensive. After all, what self-respecting reality TV star stays at a Holiday Inn these days?
For example, around the same time Palin was part of the Saturday Night Live 50th anniversary special, $4,563 was spent at the swanky Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.
That sort of bill doesn’t pay for itself.
According to Federal Election Commission reports, in the first six months of last year, Sarah PAC—Palin’s organization that purports to be dedicated “to help[ing] elect principled, conservative leaders” spent $16,062 on a private charter in Jackson, Wyoming, $3,855 on a “car and driver” in Long Island City, New York, and a total of $4,364 at La Playa Hotel in Naples, Florida.
So as much as Palin rages against the Washington political machine, the consultant class and all the “elites,” the spending by Sarah PAC shows that it remains the same lifestyle-fundin’, consultant-payin’ organization it has been since she launched it in 2009.
Now, it’s all legal and—to be fair—$35,000 of the $825,556 that Sarah PAC began with in 2015 ($493,507 of which was raised in the first six months of last year) actually went to federal candidates and causes in the first half of last year: $25,000 to candidates for federal offices and $10,000 to the Navy Seal WFF Family Foundation, a charity for the families of the Naval special forces.
But after that, it seems that the PAC has had more to do with pumping up Palin and her entourage than pumping up conservative candidates.
For example, $38,000 was spent on speechwriting—$36,000 of which went to Aries Petra Consulting LLC, owned by longtime Palin aide Rebecca Mansour.
That means a speech like this one, at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January 2015, was a) not the result of magnetic poetry and b) could have been written by someone receiving up to $6,000 per month from Sarah PAC.
“[We] can afford no retreads or nothing will change with the same people and same policies that got us into the status quo. Another Latin word, status quo, and it stands for, ‘Man, the middle-class everyday Americans are really gettin’ taken for a ride’ …That’s status quo, and GOP leaders, by the way, y’know the man can only ride ya when your back is bent. So strengthen it. Then the man can’t ride ya. America won’t be taken for a ride, because so much is at stake and we can’t afford politicians playing games like nothing more is at stake than, oh, maybe just the next standing of theirs in the next election.”
While $6,000 might seem like a lot for that verbiage, on second thought, that speech was priceless.
Palin likes railing against consultants and advising her fellow politicians not to use them (most recently to Carly Fiorina, whom she said should “not let any high-priced consultants who run [her] campaign mold [her] into something that’s not politically correct and kind of middle-of-the-road on some issues.”) And yet a good chunk of Sarah PAC’s funds went to paying consulting firms.
In fact, $121,250 went to “consultant logistics,” including payments to Palin adviser Andrew Davis, Naples-based Grey Strategies, and North Star Strategies out of New Orleans. Another $80,500 went to Timothy Crawford, the treasurer of the PAC for “consultant, fundraising and compliance,” and Andrew Davis netted another $22,500 for “consultant research.”
It important to note that this spending pattern—and the players who receive the money—aren’t new.
A look through FEC filings for Sarah PAC throughout the years shows the bulk of the money—largely from small donors —has been spent disproportionately on the people who run the PAC as well as fundraising efforts and direct mail.
For example, in 2010, the first election cycle after Palin’s unsuccessful bid for vice president, Sarah PAC raised $5.7 million, spent about $4.4 million, of which $467,000 went to conservative candidates.
The numbers from 2012 aren’t terribly different: $5 million raised, $5.1 million spent, $298,500 went to candidates.
And in 2014, SarahPac raised $2.8 million, spent $3.1 million with $205,000 of the haul going to candidates.
But Sarah PAC’s website tells a different story, claiming that small fraction of spending has made all the difference.
“In the 2014 election cycle, SarahPAC had a better record than Hillary Clinton with nineteen general election victories,” according to the website.
“Sarah PAC’s candidates contributed significantly to winning the new Republican Senate majority.”
If Trump’s bid for the GOP nomination is successful, it’s not too far-fetched to think that Sarah PAC will be there to take credit for makin’ America Great Again right alongside him.