RPOF contract for a Charlie Crist friend draws scrutiny
UPDATED: Jay Burmer's firms actually received more than $350,000 through a "strategic media planning" contract with the party. Read new details here.
As forensic auditors scour the finances at the Republican Party of Florida after the ouster of former Chairman Jim Greer, one agreement is sure to raise a red flag: $316,000 the party paid to Jay Burmer, a close friend to Gov. Charlie Crist.
In a 2 1/2-year period ending in December 2009, Burmer's company Green Wolf Group, LLC, received about $10,000 a month, according to the party's federal campaign finance reports, to serve as an outside communications consultant to the party.
It's a vague description for apparently vague work. GOP party officials -- former and current -- said they knew little about Burmer's role, and it's unclear whether he ever signed a contract with the party.
What is known is Burmer's connection to Crist, who put Greer at the helm of the party in November 2006 when he took office. It's not clear who authorized his contract, whether it was Greer or a request from Crist.
Crist said in an interview that he knew Burmer worked for the party and called him a smart guy.
"I think there is more connections to RPOF, Jim Greer and the Crist campaign than we know about," said Allen Cox, the party's former vice chairman.
Burmer, a 57-year old Tampa resident, is a longtime Crist friend who attended the governor's December 2008 wedding. He did not answer calls for comment.
The two attended college together and knew each other when Burmer worked as an advertising sales manager for WFLA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Tampa. He then served as campaign manager for Crist's successful bid for education commissioner in 2000 and joined the department as the director of the Central Florida office in St. Petersburg.
Two years later when Crist was elected Attorney General, Burmer followed him and joined the state's Tampa office as the director of fraud prevention.
He is a prolific political donor despite filing for bankruptcy in 2004, citing $24,000 in assets and $122,114 in debt. Federal court records show he owed $1,500 to the IRS and another $70,000 in credit card debt.
Since then, Burmer held leadership roles at a number of ambiguous companies, such as the Tarpon Group, Franklin Consulting Group and Alia Group, LLC, according to state business records.
More recently, he joined Florida Electronic Scratch Off, a Pinellas County company which is asking lawmakers and the governor's office to allow the Florida Lottery to use video terminals for scratch-off tickets.
But it's his firm Green Wolf Group, based at his South Tampa home, that is getting the most attention. It incorporated two weeks after Crist was sworn in as governor with a stated purpose to conduct "any and all lawful business."
The firm began work for the state Republican Party in May 2007. According to published reports, Greer announced that Burmer would lead the party's efforts to organize a televised presidential debate at "Presidency IV," a GOP combine Oct. 21-22 in Orlando. He made $70,000 in his six moths, but what he did for the party is not clear.
Even after the event, Burmer continued to draw monthly payments of $9,614.26 and assorted expenses for travel. The payments topped $10,000 for one five-month stretch in 2008.
But the largest payment -- $15,000 -- came Dec. 18, as Greer's ouster was imminent and the party faithful raised concerns about excessive spending. The total payout came to $315,723.85, according to federal campaign finance records.
He made more than the party's entire communications department, though no one in that office ever worked with him.
Party spokeswoman Katie Betta said Burmer was hired by Greer to provide communications consulting to the party and Crist. But she acknowledged: "I have never worked with him personally."