Editorial: Frivolous shopping spree raises ethical questions

Spending seems to be one of the trendiest words these days.

Everywhere you turn, you hear of people holding back on their spending because of the economy. On the other hand, elected officials are calling on Americans to spend money and trust that the economy will balance out.

And it seems that when you are the Republican Party’s vice presidential candidate, spending money — even frivolously — doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Politico.com, a political news Web site, found that soon after electing her as John McCain’s running mate, the Republican National Committee spent nearly $50,000 at Saks Fifth Avenue to “clothe and accessorize” Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her family. Soon after that, records show that about $75,000 was spent at the popular department store Neiman Marcus.

When the Web site confronted the party with the records, Republican Party spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt downplayed the sprees, telling Politico that, “With all of the important issues facing the country right now, it’s remarkable that we’re spending time talking about pantsuits and blouses.”

There are a couple of reasons why talking about an approximate $150,000 spent on clothes might not be a waste of time.

Granted, it’s common knowledge that appearance matters when it comes to politics, but it’s a little hard to justify such an absurd amount, especially when Palin’s whole shtick is presenting a “soccer mom” image. Let’s face it: The typical soccer mom can’t afford to drop $45,000 on a shopping spree. So any it’s-OK-for-Palin-to-spend-so-much-for-her-image argument, considering her many attempts to cultivate a sense of mediocre homemaker homeliness, is a bit weak.

Also, that the McCain camp would downplay the obvious mismanagement of funds with a rather stinky “there-are-more-important-issues red herring is outright shady, and it doesn’t help him in this election. Distracting the electorate by pointing to other problems fails to address and find a way to correct misspending. Saying the clothes will later be donated to charity doesn’t make it better.

The Oracle’s gripe with Palin isn’t political — it’s practical and ethical. We’re incensed when Democrats spend campaign money in a similarly frivolous fashion. There’s no justification for Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards’ $400 haircuts or the $3,000 Sen. Hillary Clinton dropped in two visits to the hair salon.

Admittedly, there are gray areas. Because image is so important in politics, it might be understandable if a candidate uses $20 in campaign money to buy a shirt at the last minute, so as to not look like a slob at a rally taking place after a sauce accident at a fundraising barbeque.

Spending $150,000 on designer duds, however, is a tough sell.