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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Committee paid Aronberg's private club dues



Sen. Dave Aronberg joined a private Tallahassee club last year funded by his political committee, which paid his $1,500 dues on April 15, 2007.

A spokesman for Aronberg's challenger, Republican Matt Caldwell, says the move violates Senate rules, because Aronberg used it for his own benefit. Aronberg, a Democrat, says he used the membership for the benefit of the political committee. (You can only buy individual memberships at the Governor's Club, he adds.)

No one has filed a complaint with the Senate or the elections division yet, but Caldwell's spokesman said we'd see one soon.

Aronberg became a member of the Governor's Club, a private club in Tallahassee that has earned a reputation as a place where lawmakers and lobbyists can spend time out of the public eye. It became a popular hangout after the gift ban clamped down on more public socializing.

The political committees are funded through companies and lobbyists. In Aronberg's case, the committee called Citizens For Political Accountability had been largely funded by parimutuel companies, Florida PBA and Dosal Tobacco at the time his membership was purchased. Lawmakers use the committees as slush funds to pay for travel, meals and consulting. (Buzz remembers when former Rep. Randy Johnson used his for what appeared to be personal expenses like RV repairs. His CPA got into trouble and had to pay a $2,000 fine after a complaint was filed.)

An examination of other lawmakers' political committees' expense reports suggests that no other lawmaker (at least that the Buzz could find) had used his committee to purchase a membership. Sens. Jeff Atwater, Paula Dockery and Jim King, among many others, have memberships there that have not been paid by their political committees. Buzz knows that several House members like Rep. Adam Hasner and Ron Reagan are also members. Hasner says his wife bought their personal membership.

Aronberg said he cleared his membership purchase with ethics attorneys and he joined to avoid running amok of the gift ban (by, say, eating on a ticket of a member who lobbies the Legislature. Many lawmakers eat there and then reimburse members in cash.)

“I did it to raise money for the CCE,” Aronbeg said. "Everything was disclosed immediately."

Rick Wilson, a new spokesman for Caldwell, accused Aronberg of "taking an illegal and unethical gratuity from a CCE that is used as his personal political vehicle."


[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 8:50am]


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