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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

John Thrasher works to shield party credit cards from public view

22

February

So before a conflict of interest could arise, St. Augustine Sen. John Thrasher stepped down from chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee when he was chosen as the head of the Republican Party of Florida this Saturday.

But three days before he left the Senate post, Thrasher presided over the committee when it gave RPOF (and anyone else with a political credit card) a nice fat gift: A clear exemption from having to report "a copy of each credit card statement which shall be included in the next [campaign finance]report..." [paren mine].

That language actually exists in statute. Thrasher's committee bill strikes it out.

But it was already nullified by a curious 2005 Division of Elections opinion that essentially said "each credit card statement" didn't need to be "included" because it would be too difficult to include the statements via the state's electronic campaign-finance filing system. Apparently, the government system didn't have a function to accept PDFs. Yeah, PDFs are so hard to post.

Like this one: Download De0507.

It's the actual division opinion in question that you, dear viewer, are seeing electronically and that we downloaded from the division's own website. Whodathunk? Interestingly, it was the Florida Democrats who set this all in motion by actually requesting the division opinion. And it's not as if all the credit card information isn't online; the parties report aggregate sums in their expenditures on the division's website and list other expenses under the tab "other disbursements." Still, the actually credit-card bills don't line up with the reported totals. (The committee packet is here and the language in question is on page 196 of 207, or page 33 of 44 of the bill).

Anyway, lawmakers never raised a stink about an executive order from an appointed official trumping the plain language of state statute. So the political parties were free to just report aggregate sums, and not the "individual" reports.

Then came Ray Sansom's shopping spree and Delmar Johnson's spending binge at RPOF on the party's American Express cards.

**Update: Thrasher said this blog post unfairly ascribed "scurrilous motives" to him. "I take offense," Thrasher said.

He said the bill wasn't his. Rather, it was Secretary of State Kurt Browning's bill. Asked if he could have changed the language in question, Thrasher said members of the Legislature could change it if they wished. He said the language was "a technical change." 

Asked if he supported the language ensuring that political parties wouldn't have to disclosure the individual credit-card bills, Thrasher changed the subject to his amendment that helped disabled voters. Now that he's party chair, does he support releasing the credit card bills of yore? Thrasher said he'd decide later.

Q: Do you realize you haven't answered the question and that this will be reflected -- just a heads up?

A: "I have plenty of heads-ups these days. I have to go," Thrasher said.

The two men who pushed Thrasher to become RPOF chair, future House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, have both said the problems at RPOF have underscored the need for more "transparency." Both have refused to release their statements or call on others to do so. Senate President Jeff Atwater is waffling as he, too, talks about the need for more "transparency."

Transparent indeed.

-- Marc Caputo

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 1:21pm]

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