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Originally published October 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 23, 2008 at 9:33 AM

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Clothing purchases for Palin, family cost $150,000

She portrays herself in campaign appearances as an average working woman with small-town values, a hockey mom who shops at Wal-Mart, the...

Los Angeles Times

She portrays herself in campaign appearances as an average working woman with small-town values, a hockey mom who shops at Wal-Mart, the wife of a union member who works with his hands.

So news that the Republican National Committee (RNC) bought Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her family nearly $150,000 worth of clothing since September fueled charges of hypocrisy by her detractors and sparked questions about the legality of the expenditures.

At a time when GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain is struggling to convince voters he understands their economic pain — introducing them to "Joe the Plumber" last week to prove it — spending sprees at the most rarefied retail temples may undercut his message.

"It looks like nobody with a political antennae was working on this — just one more sign of the hapless decisions in this campaign," said Ed Rollins, who ran President Reagan's campaign in 1984.

The RNC listed the expenditures in its September and October filings with the Federal Election Commission. The purchases occurred primarily Sept. 10 in New York and Minneapolis at Neiman Marcus ($75,062.63), Saks Fifth Avenue ($49,425.74) and Bloomingdale's ($5,102.71). Some money apparently was spent on clothes for her husband, Todd, ($4,902.08) and her children.

The spree cost 75 times more than the average American spends per year on clothing. In 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average American spent $1,874 on clothing and services. It also totaled more than the $125,000 Palin makes as governor.

"My first reaction when I heard about this was, 'Honey, I could have dressed you for a lot less than that,' " said Cindi Leive, the editor in chief of Glamour magazine. "In general, she looks terrific, but if you asked me to figure out where the $150,000 went, I'm not sure I could tell you."

Others say if Palin's garb seems expensive, consider that Barack Obama wears $1,500 Hart Schaffner Marx suits and McCain wears $520 Salvatore Ferragamo loafers.

In the February issue of Vogue magazine, the Alaska governor joked that her preferred designers are "Patagonia and North Face." But by the time she accepted the nomination, her transition was under way: She wore a $2,500 Valentino shantung jacket.

Though she has not disclosed the labels she is now wearing, fashion observers think she has worn Gianfranco Ferre, St. John and Anne Klein. On the trail, she is accompanied by a hair stylist and makeup artist.

Palin advisers said Wednesday the purchases were made on the fly after she was chosen to be McCain's running mate Aug. 29 and needed new clothes to match climates across the 50 states. They emphasized, too, that others — not Palin — made the purchases.

Election-law experts are split on whether the RNC's expenditure is allowable under federal laws, which prohibit the use of campaign funds for personal use.

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"It's clearly contrary to what Congress said in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which was authored by John McCain — that candidates can't directly pay for clothing with campaign funds," said Lance Olson, general counsel for the California Democratic Party.

James Lacy, a Reagan Administration lawyer who is an expert on nonprofit and election law, disagreed.

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with the expenditure, as long as it is 100 percent focused on the campaign," Lacy said. "If they need to spend that money in order to keep her clean, clothed and focused because she is on the road 24/7, then that's an appropriate expenditure."

While voters and election-law experts quibble, one wardrobe expert was impressed.

"I am an Obama supporter, but when I heard that for $150,000, they dressed her, her children and her husband, I thought, 'that's not much,' " said Vicki Sanchez, a costume designer who dressed Geena Davis when she played the nation's first female president on the short-lived TV show "Commander in Chief."

"When you start buying $3,000 suits, boots that cost anywhere from $800 and up, t goes fast. She looks damn good. Get over it."

Information from The New York Times and The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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