Palin's Fashion-Gate

(UPDATED) Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

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On the presidential campaign trail, though, Palin — and her apparent personal shoppers — have stepped things up (her predilection for red footwear seems to be all her own, however, as evidenced by the bright red sandals she wore to an Anchorage event back in May). A search of the Federal Election Commission records for the RNC’s expenditures in September turned up a total of $145,200 in purchases made by Palin and her family at a long list of better and midtier department stores, which was first reported by (upon further scrutiny, The Atlantic Web site noted that Republican direct marketer Jeff Larson is listed as the buyer for a number of the stores). While the FEC records do not identify whether the purchases were made by McCain or Palin, the McCain campaign has not disputed the news reports that the vice presidential nominee and her family made the purchases along the campaign trail, stretching from Minneapolis to St. Louis to New York.

A breakdown of the spending provided in the FEC filing charts her team’s spending across the U.S. since her nomination: Saks Fifth Avenue, St. Louis, $7,575, Sept. 10; Barneys New York, $789, Sept. 10; Bloomingdale’s New York, $5,102, Sept. 10; Neiman Marcus, Minneapolis, $75,062, Sept. 10; Atelier, $4,902, Sept. 10; Saks Fifth Avenue, New York, $41,850, Sept. 10; Macy’s, Minneapolis, $4,396, Sept. 10; Macy’s, Minneapolis, Minn., $4,537, Sept. 22; Macy’s, Minneapolis, $512.92, Sept. 25; Gap, Minneapolis, $133, Sept. 25, and Lord & Taylor, $350, Sept. 25.

Palin has in the past gone heavily for Escada — even admitting to buying some of its styles at secondhand stores in Anchorage — and for the vice presidential debate on Oct. 2 wore a black Elie Tahari suit, according to a source. But a recent tour of the designer collection floor at New York’s Saks Fifth Avenue revealed she’s lately been adding a lot of pieces by Akris Punto, the company’s lower-priced line. “She has been wearing our jackets,” a saleswoman said, pointing out a red twill jacket (retailing for $1,190) and an ombré striped jacket ($1,500), the latter of which Palin appeared to be wearing the day her nomination was announced. Salespeople at St. John and Escada, two labels which sell the kind of sleek, embellished suits Palin has been sporting recently, acknowledged they “had heard” she was wearing their designs, but could not point out any specific items (spokespeople for all three companies declined to comment).

Federal election laws prohibit a political campaign from using campaign funds to purchase a long list of items and services, including clothing, country club memberships, household food items and sporting events.

However, in the case of Palin’s purchases at several high-end department stores, the RNC gave the money to the campaign through a “coordinated expenditures” fund that is legal on its face.

Where the law becomes murky and has not been tested is on the question of whether “coordinated expenses” between the national party and a candidate’s campaign are considered a direct contribution to the campaign and therefore meet the “personal use” prohibitions applied to campaigns, said Lawrence Noble, former general counsel of the FEC, who now specializes in political law at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates.
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