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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Money woes take toll at Florida GOP

4

January

It's a constant source of tension in political parties: grassroots foot soldiers hostile to anything that smacks of top-down decision-making versus the elected officials/consultants/and party establishment.

A year ago, the Republican Party of Florida's grassroots members in a rare rebuff of the normally dominant GOP establishment, snubbed Gov. Rick Scott by electing as state party chairman Blaise Ingoglia, a Republican state representative from Hernando County, rather than Scott's candidate, Leslie Dougher of northeast Florida. The state party's rank and file showed who is boss of the Florida GOP.

And now they're starting to see the consequences.

Strapped for cash since Gov. Scott stopped raising any money for the party, it has laid off its well-regarded Chief Financial Officer, Richard Swarttz after 12 years. The party simply can no longer afford a six-figure CFO position.

Swarttz's departure comes just as the party's executive director, Brad Herold, announced he's jumping ship to lead the Ron DeSantis U.S. Senate campaign. He is to be replaced by the well-liked director of party development, George Riley, who won't see a salary increase despite a big increase in responsibilities.

These are ominous developments for the once-mighty Republican Party of Florida, coming at the start of a presidential election in a state that is must-win for the Republican nominee. Look for finger-pointing soon about whether to money woes reflect weak leadership by Ingoglia or unprecedented selfishness by a Republican governor who so far is devoting his energy to promoting his own agenda and political future through Scott's Let's Get to Work Political Committee rather than ensure Hillary Clinton loses Florida.

 "Our focus is, and will remain, defeating Hillary Clinton in Florida, delivering this state to the Republican nominee, and getting Republicans elected up and down the ballot. We are making these needed adjustments now to ensure that we are in the best position possible to do just that. Our party continues to be debt free, hold a cash on hand advantage over the Florida Democrats while holding significant digital, data and field operational advantages as well," Ingoglia said in a statement.

Citizens United, the advent of Super PACs and other political committees already ensured the diminishing importance of state and national political parties but the intra-party schisms in the Florida GOP only hastens that. It's not at all clear whether there's a path back to financial strength for the Florida GOP or even whether we may be watching the start of a train wreck for the party.

At a ribbon-cutting event in Tampa Monday, Scott declined to discuss the state party except to say he will support the Republican nominee.

The governor is raising money for his own committee, and the Florida Senate Republicans yanked their money and finance operation out from the party, rather than trust a state party chairman presumed to be under the control of soon-to-be Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Party officials say Ingoglia already has had to "borrow" about $250,000 from the internal Florida House campaigns account.

State CFO Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi have joined fundraising receptions for the state party, but mostly the statewide elected Republicans are also focused on their own political committees. And it sounds as if the Sunshine Summit presidential candidate weekend in November failed to bring in as much money as the party hoped. We'll know more after the latest campaign finance reports are filed by next week.

Politico reported that a "Monday Massacre" may be in the works, but we haven't heard that. There simply aren't many highly paid staffers to lay off at this most. The state GOP's field staff is being funded by the Republican National Committee.

The good news for the Republican Party of Florida? At least they haven't sunk to the low point of the Florida Democratic Party.

[Last modified: Monday, January 4, 2016 4:05pm]

    

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