Atwater's idea of a meal on the party dime: McDonalds and Subway
Armed with a Republican Party credit card and and places to go, Senate President Jeff Atwater did -- it seems -- what any good banker should do: he pinched his pennies. According to credit card statements obtained by the Times/Herald, Atwater racked up $44,116 in expenses between July 17, 2007 through August 18, 2009.
While most of Atwater's travel was either by car -- charging the party with thousands of dollars on gasoline -- or commercial jets, he also frequently hired the private jet company, DayJet in Boca Raton. The total bill for that service: $4,025.73.
Judging by the dinner tabs, which include McDonald's in Tallahassee ($20.40) and Subway ($17.83), he likes to eat at places with lots of red meat. When he's in Tallahassee, his favorite is Ted's Montana Grill ($210.71 for five visits). But imagine going to Ted's and getting out of there with only a $15.13 tab. What's up with that?He also went to Ruth Chris' in Coral Gables. Big spender: $35.50. Compare that to incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon's 18 visits to a Ruth Chris' near his house over a shorter period of time (pricetag: $9,220.)
Atwater's most expensive meal -- $2,185 -- at Buca Di Beppo in Chicago, an Italian restaurant chain on July 30, 2009, was to pay for dinner for Republican senators and their spouses while attending an American Legislative Exchange Council conference. The next day he spent $284 at 437 Rush, an Italian style steakhouse in Chicago. He once traveled to New York at party expense, on Aug. 4, 2007. He stayed at the Westin for $414 and ate at another Italian steakhouse, Bottega Del Vino on West 57th Street for $124.
Atwater was thrilled that the Times/Herald had obtained the statements. "I have been hoping that the party would share them because I felt that I handled that card responsibly. I’m glad we’re having the conversation,'' he said. "Obviously I've had to withstand the speculation and the perception that somehow I was holding back because I have something to hide.''
Instead, he said he considered "every dollar I spent I couldn't spend on a candidate, a television ad, a bumper sticker or yard sign."
He said that he put 150,000 miles on his 2005 Honda Odyssey criss-crossing the state for candidates, stayed over night only when he had to, and "if could get away with picking up my own tab at a dinner, I did it.''
Atwater's expenses were modest compared to some of his counterparts in the House. Between late 2006 and early 2009, former House Speaker Marco Rubio spent about $100,000 using his party credit card -- including to make repairs to his minivan. Former Speaker Ray Sansom spent more: about $173,000, as did Cannon, who charged the most: about $200,000, according to a Herald/Times analysis.
Rubio's predecessor, Allan Bense, spent $67,435 between December 2005 and December 2006, according to one year's worth of statements obtained by the Herald/Times. Much of it was on airfare traveling from Panama City around the state.
Some highlights: Bense made a $772 purchase at Border's Book Store in Tallahassee Dec. 14, 2005 and spent $425 at Walt Disney World on Dec. 21, 2005. While at home, Bense spent $641 at the Panama City restaurant, the Salt Water Grill on Feb. 4, 2006. Two weeks later, he spent $2,487 at Georgia's Restaurant in Tallahassee.