TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Republican Party spent more than $9,500 on special Disney World tours for Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp and others in the summer of 2008, according to credit card bills obtained by the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald.
The outings were part of roughly $47,000 in expenses charged that year to the American Express card held by the former executive director of the state party, Jim Rimes, and tied to Kottkamp. Handwritten notes on the bills describe the amusement park costs as "Lt. Gov. Disney trip."
Kottkamp said he went to Disney with donors and their families. But party spokeswoman Katie Betta said Tuesday that the Disney charges were not associated with a fundraiser nor other official party business.
The party is undergoing an audit to uncover any wrongdoing by high-ranking legislators and staffers who used the credit cards under then-chairman Jim Greer.
"This is an example of the type of expense our forensic investigators are looking into to determine if additional documentation does exist that would confirm that the Disney expenses were in fact related to RPOF business," Betta said in an e-mail.
Following months of newspaper reports about cardholders using party money to cover personal expenses, the Florida GOP is expected to release its American Express bills under Greer this week. State and federal investigators are also looking into party finances.
Disney offers tours in which an employee escorts up to 10 guests for between $175 and $315 an hour, depending on the time of year and the type of amusement park. The tours bypass most lines and ensure reserved seats at shows and parades.
Betta said she had no record of who went to Disney with Kottkamp in conjunction with the party's May 12 meeting and June 12 "victory dinner" in Orlando. The tours were charged on May 8, 9, 10 and 11 and on June 14 and 15. Another $151 was spent at Universal Studios' online ticket store May 9, and $48.54 at Cinderella's Royal Table restaurant on June 13.
A spokesman for Kottkamp's campaign for state attorney general, David Bishop, described the Disney outings Tuesday as "donors' appreciation" events to thank supporters. He said legislators and Kottkamp's wife and 5-year-old son "most likely" came along.
"Donors are people who like to have fun," Kottkamp said in an interview last week. ''Can you think of anything more boring than just standing around at a reception? That's why you see these efforts being made."
Rimes, the former executive director, referred questions about the more than $2 million charged to his credit card between 2007 and 2009 to the party. The expenses ranged from luxuries like chartered planes and limousines to the costs of running campaigns, including hotels, rental cars, cell phones and office supplies.
Handwritten notes on the bills, presumably by a party staffer, indicated which purchases were for Kottkamp, who said he didn't have his own credit card. The lieutenant governor said he incurred those charges as part of party activities.
"There are no personal charges," he said. "This is always doing official party business. I've always been very active at these party events."
The state party spent more than $4,600 on plane tickets for him, his wife, his young son, a security guard and two top staffers to go to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis in 2008. Kottkamp said his wife preferred a different itinerary so he separately purchased tickets for his family, which he verified with personal credit card statements. The Florida GOP did not get reimbursed for the family's party-paid tickets.
At the convention, $1,252 was spent at a Minneapolis steakhouse for "LG-meals," according to a handwritten note next to the charge. Asked why he needed two aides with him at the convention, Kottkamp noted that he had to stand in for Gov. Charlie Crist when a hurricane kept the governor in Florida.
"I led the Florida delegation," Kottkamp said. "I had a very aggressive schedule with press and speeches and I had to have people staff me at these things."
The bills also show more than $12,600 charged at hotels, a restaurant and a sporting goods store to take donors on a white water rafting trip to Tennessee in August 2008. Kottkamp, who led the trip, said it "brought in a significant sum of money."
Among the other restaurant tabs on the credit card tied to Kottkamp: $4,020 at Christina's in Orlando, $1,028 at Capital Grille in Orlando, and $1,773 at Ruth's Chris in Orlando. Kottkamp said he was wining and dining donors but did not provide any names.
"The least you can do for donors is to treat them to dinner," he said. "I guess I was the ranking guy there. Sometimes there might be other elected officials."
Asked if he remembered anything specific about these gatherings, he said, "After a while, it all goes together."