Reporting from Washington — The Republican National Committee is investigating the expenditure of nearly $2,000 in party funds at a racy West Hollywood nightclub, a party spokesman said Monday.
RNC spokesman Doug Heye acknowledged that the party had reimbursed Erik Brown, president of a Southern California firm that has provided direct mail services to political campaigns, for a Jan. 31 outing at Voyeur West Hollywood.
The club, inspired by the film "Eyes Wide Shut," is intended to be "risque and provocative" and "a combination of intimidation and sexuality," one of its partners, David Koral, told The Times in October. Scantily clad performers play out bondage and sadomasochistic "scenes" during the night.
In a statement and in an interview Monday night, the RNC said an unidentified staff member was fired for telling Brown he would be reimbursed for the expenditure.
"It is unfortunate that a loyal GOP donor who has recruited other donors became involved in this incident while merely trying to help what turned out to be the improper request of a staffer who is no longer with the committee," the statement said.
An RNC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he did not know whose idea it was to go to that particular nightclub.
The expenditure is listed in a monthly campaign finance report and was first reported by the Daily Caller website.
It was unclear how many people were with Brown or who they were, but Heye said RNC Chairman Michael Steele was not among them.
Heye gave details of Steele's itinerary to show that the chairman was not at the club that night. On Jan. 31, Steele was on a United Airlines flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles returning from a party meeting, Heye said. The flight left Honolulu at 10:45 p.m., a United Airlines spokesman said.
Steele "immediately determined that we need to find out exactly the why and the how so it doesn't happen again," Heye said. "His reaction was one of anger."
But the episode added to questions about Steele's management. He has drawn criticism for earning outside income through paid speeches, antagonized conservative icons and been embarrassed by disclosure of an internal GOP fundraising document suggesting that certain donors are motivated by fear and ego.
Heye said he had gotten "a commitment" from Brown to repay the money.
A call left for Brown at his company, Dynamic Marketing of Orange, was not returned. He is not employed by the RNC, although he once mentioned by way of a tweet that he attended a Washington Redskins football game with Steele.
A spokesman for the West Hollywood nightclub declined to comment.
Steele has been criticized by some Republican donors over what they see as excessive spending.
In the same monthly report that disclosed the nightclub visit, the RNC is shown to have spent nearly $11,000 on limousine services, and thousands more in lodging at high-end hotels in Las Vegas, Beverly Hills and New York.
About $400 spent at a liquor store on Capitol Hill was classified in the report as "office supplies." A person answering the phone at Congressional Liquors said the store sells no office supplies.
Heye said hotel expenses covered fundraising events that were "entirely proper."
"Any time anything is done at a nice hotel, the RNC has to answer questions about it," he said. "When the Democrats do it, they don't have to answer questions about it."
A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee took the opportunity to tweak the RNC.
"This controversy shouldn't give voters much confidence in Republicans when they say they want to be put back in charge of federal spending," the DNC's Hari Sevugan said.
But Republicans were more likely to be worried about how their conservative base would react.
Concerned Women for America, which describes itself as a conservative Christian group that promotes biblical values, issued a statement saying it was "dismayed" that the RNC had reimbursed Brown.
"Why would a staffer believe that this is acceptable, and has this kind of thing been approved in the past?" said Penny Nance, the group's chief executive.
Times staff writers Evan Halper and Robert Lopez contributed to this report.