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House Candidates Go For The Bling

It's amazing to see how some congressional candidates are spending their campaigns' money -- on hotels, limousines, wedding gifts for constituents, golf bags and spa items from Saks Fifth Avenue, crystal bowls from an upscale jewelry store. As Fred Astaire and Lil' Wayne might say, sky's the limit.

Among the more interesting and offbeat expenditures listed in the latest campaign financial disclosure reports, the reelection campaign of Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) spent a whopping $4,113 at Saks Fifth Avenue on golf gear and spa items, and another $892 at Baccarat, the luxury crystal maker.

Bono Mack's finance director, Sabrina Garcia, says the campaign bought Lacoste sports bags, golf shirts and "spa items" at Saks as prizes for donors who played in the congresswoman's annual golf tournament fundraiser at Porcupine Creek in Rancho Mirage, Calif., owned by lumber billionaire Tim Bixseth.

At Baccarat, the campaign bought "little crystal elephants" for hosts of various fundraisers for Bono Mack.

Among other Republican campaign expenditures, the reelection campaign of Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the No. 2 Republican leader in the House, spent $95 on "event gifts" at Ralph Lauren, $100 on a "constituent gift" at Crate & Barrel and another $48 on a "constituent wedding gift."

Rep. Gary Miller's (R-Calif.) relection campaign spent an eyebrow-raising $2,220 at the Tiny Jewel Box, a high-end jewelry store in downtown Washington, D.C. By comparison, Miller's campaign spent a paltry $396.40 at Macy's on "wedding gifts."

What in the world was he buying with his campaign dough at the Tiny Jewel Box? "Campaign gifts for high-end donors," says Miller's spokesman, Kevin McKee. The campaign bought glass bowls and fancy mahogany boxes for its biggest contributors, McKee says.

Democratic operatives, as you might imagine, had some fun ripping into their GOP counterparts for such lavish campaign spending. "The same reckless spending habits that characterized the old Republican guard are alive and well in 2008," says Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Doug Thornell. "Looks like the GOP's approach to economic stimulus involves blowing their donors' hard earned money on extravagant shopping sprees at Ralph Lauren and Saks Fifth Avenue."

For their part, GOP operatives zeroed in on one Democrat's seemingly extravagant campaign expenditures. And even though he's a moderate, Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) sure comes off looking like a limousine liberal in his campaign's financial disclosure report.

The latest filing shows Kanjorski's campaign spent $1,615 on limousine service in April and May. The campaign also had hefty expenditures -- a total of $13,753 -- for catering and lodging expenses in April, May and June.

(We also noticed that the Kanjorski campaign made a $1,700 donation to the Paul Kanjorski Foundation in May.)

"Watching Paul Kanjorski's campaign is like watching Steve Carell play Michael Scott in an episode of 'The Office.' Both are funny for their blundering antics, but they also misrepresent the city of Scranton on a national scale," says Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

For the uninitiated, Carell ("The 40-year-old Virgin," "Little Miss Sunshine") stars in the NBC sitcom "The Office" as Michael Scott, a socially inept and hilariously egotistically delusional manager of the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin, a fictional paper company.

Kanjorski, who in real life represents the city of Scranton, says all the expenditures were within reasonable spending limitations. All those limousines? "These are not stretch limousines. They are basic sedans," explains Kanjorski's media strategist, Ed Mitchell. "These are just cars."

Call it a car, call it a jalopy. But a chauffered limo is still a chauffered limo by any other name.

By Mary Ann Akers  |  July 22, 2008; 12:03 PM ET
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