TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist's independent U.S. Senate campaign is refunding nearly $10,000 to Jim Greer after the indicted former Republican Party state chairman asked for the money to help pay for his legal defense.
"As you know circumstances have caused me to need money to defend myself and take care of my family," Greer wrote in an Aug. 5 letter. "I know sending the money back is hard, but with what has happened it may be politically beneficial for you to do."
Greer, 48, faces six felony charges, including organized fraud and money laundering, after authorities alleged he used a secret fundraising contract to funnel party donations to a consulting firm he owned.
Greer and his wife made maximum contributions — $4,800 each — to Crist in May 2009.
Crist's campaign first disputed the letter's authenticity but agreed Monday to return the money after an inquiry from the Times/Herald.
The move served as an inconvenient reminder for Crist about his close ties to Greer, the man he put at the party's helm when he was elected governor in 2006.
In the one-page letter, Greer spit fire at the Republicans who ousted him, calling them "liars, racists and extremists" but made it clear he still supports Crist.
He wrote: "Charlie over the last three years, I did all that I was asked to do by you and others. Your goals were my goals. When all of the others abandoned you, I remained loyal."
The campaign's decision to return the money marks a departure from its previous stance.
A number of GOP donors asked the campaign to give back their money after Crist left the Republican Party in April but he refused.
A former supporter even filed a lawsuit in federal court to force a refund.
Danny Kanner, a Crist spokesman, did not respond to questions about the reversal nor why it took the campaign nearly two weeks to act on the letter.
The campaign of Republican Marco Rubio, Crist's chief rival in the U.S. Senate race, seized on the issue.
"It should surprise no one that despite refusing to return a single penny to Floridians who gave to him in good faith, Charlie Crist wasted no time in refunding money to his indicted political confidante," Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos said.
Following Crist's lead, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp's attorney general campaign said Monday it would donate $1,000 from the Greers to the party. Likewise, Rep. Chris Dorworth, a future House speaker seeking re-election, said he would return $500 his campaign received.
Two other Republican legislative candidates, Clay Ingram of Pensacola and Jason Brodeur of Sanford, returned Greer's contributions June 3, the day after his indictment.
Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican candidate for governor, returned $1,000 on March 30, the day before the party and state authorities disclosed the Greer investigation.
John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.