WASHINGTON – A watchdog group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission Wednesday alleging that the Republican Party broke federal campaign laws by buying Sarah Palin and her family about $150,000 in clothes for campaign appearances.

The complaint names as defendants Palin, the RNC, Larson and other operatives associated with the RNC.

The Federal Election Campaign Act specifically prohibits expenditures for such purposes, the liberal-leaning Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said in its complaint.

The group cited language in the law stating that no donated funds may be converted to personal use if the expense “would exist irrespective of the candidate’s election campaign,” including a clothing purchase unless it is of “de minimis value.”

Murkier, however, is whether the law allows clothing purchases by a party committee, as occurred with the Palin expenses.

Jeff Larson, a Minnesota-based Republican consultant, made most or all of the purchases at high-end chain stores in Minneapolis as the Republican National Convention was ending, according to the Republican National Committee’s campaign finance report for September.

He was reimbursed for amounts including $75,062 at Neiman Marcus, $41,851 at Saks Fifth Avenue, $4,902 at Atelier New York, $4,397 at Macy’s and $5,103 at Bloomingdale’s.

The RNC report said only that the expenditures were for “campaign accessories,” but Politico.com disclosed this week that the expenses were for clothing for Palin and her family.

An RNC official, who lacked authorization to be identified, defended the purchases as permissible, because they didn’t come from the McCain-Palin campaign.

“Because these accessories were purchased with coordinated funds, they belong to the RNC,” the official said. “They will be returned to the national committee at the conclusion of the general election, and in turn directed to charity.”

RNC spokesman Danny Diaz said only that the party committee “does not discuss expenses as it relates to strategy.”

The center’s executive director, Melanie Sloan, called it “ridiculous that RNC would spend $150,000 to outfit a vice presidential nominee and her family at any time,” and even more so at a time when many Americans have been hit hard by the sagging economy.

“The FEC should investigate immediately,” she said.

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