The GOP's Bizarre Purchases: Chocolate Elephants, Art Restoration, Rove's Lunches

In early October, as the presidential campaign was hitting its emotional peak, the Republican National Committee mailed off a check for $6,000 to an art restoration company in Kensington, Maryland. What political purpose such an expenditure played is difficult to ascertain. An employee at Wimsatt & Associates declined to discuss the services it provided for its client, only confirming that the company deals in repairing damaged artwork, not in selling pieces. The RNC, meanwhile, did not return requests for comment. But it is hard to imagine, in the context of the current election, that $6,000 for art restoration helped the Republican Party's electoral standing.

The revelation that the RNC spent tens of thousands on clothing for Gov. Sarah Palin has roiled the race in recent days. A more comprehensive review of expenditures by the RNC and the McCain campaign finds various other instances, such as the above, of questionable spending. In the past two months, for example, the GOP ticket has opened up its wallet for elephant-shaped shrubbery, baseball tickets, a yacht rental, and lunches for Karl Rove.

Like Palin's clothing, these expenditures pale in comparison to the vast sums spent on standard campaign essentials. But with Republicans facing down a historic Obama-led fundraising juggernaut, they seem likely to raise new questions about the GOP's spending priorities, with no apparent practical purpose in advancing John McCain's candidacy.

For instance, the McCain Victory 2008 committee spent nearly $9,000 on "event site rental" from a yacht company in San Diego, while the John McCain 2008 committee bought $336 worth of "event tickets" for an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game.

Hoping to lavish big time donors with gifts of appreciation during the GOP convention in Minnesota, McCain Victory 2008 purchased 250 wine glasses adorned with elephant designs, at a cost of nearly $7,000, from a shop in Georgia. It was considered a deal.

"I gave them a 20 percent discount," said an employee of Kevin's of Thomasville. "We are all Republicans here."

That same committee also purchased $3,589 worth of elephant shaped chocolates from a sweet shop in Dallas, Texas. "They bought about 1,000 pieces," said the storeowner. "About eleven ounces a piece in all three types of chocolate: milk, dark and light."

In addition to these items, the McCain campaign spent nearly $9,000 at a jewelry and political paraphernalia shop in Washington D.C., and $4,249.07 at the outdoor/clothing store, Lands End. The RNC, meanwhile, paid the Minnesota-based Tropical Plants Unlimited nearly $500 for an elephant-shaped topiary shrub.

These may seem like minor expenditures. And certainly, the Obama campaign and the DNC have also made their share of questionable purchases. But, all told the McCain campaign put down nearly $20,000 simply on items classified as "event-donor gifts."

The campaign also bought items that cut against the Republican candidate's own political message. These included checks totaling more than $9,400 for an event at the Beverly Hills Hilton, roughly at the same time that McCain was criticizing Obama for going to Hollywood while the economic crisis stirred. John McCain 2008 also paid $107.20 in subscription fees to the New York Times, the same paper that aides to McCain have called a non-journalistic institution and have trashed on a semi-regular basis.

The Republican National Committee had its share of curious purchases as well. The party paid $1,000 for a gift certificate to South Coast Growers Inc., "a plant grower, broker, & distributor dedicated to both the buying and selling of quality plant material and specimens for the wholesale market." It covered more than $600 combined in Starbucks purchases made by its workers; and $77.41 in meal tabs reported by former Bush strategist Karl Rove. And from September through last week, the committee spent $955 on golf carts and $38 on two separate car washes.

In the end, these budget items add up to a small amount of the many millions of dollars that the RNC and the McCain campaign have plowed through during the course of the campaign. But with an election that seems close to slipping away, and with multiple states considered battleground turf, every penny surely would help. And six-thousand-dollars on art restoration won't, it appears, win any votes.