When the families of Charlie Crist and Jim Greer spent four days vacationing together at Disney World last year, donors to the Florida Republican Party picked up the $13,400 tab.
When the son of former state GOP chairman Greer was baptized, Charlie and Carole Crist were on hand, toasting Aidan with champagne. Republican Party donors paid $5,600 in photography expenses.
And when the governor headed to a U.S. Senate campaign fundraiser in New York City last year, Florida GOP donors paid for Mrs. Greer and Florida's first lady to head up to Manhattan a couple of days early, charging nearly $1,600 on the party's credit card.
It's all part of a stinging internal investigation into the scandal-rocked Florida GOP under the chairmanship of the now-indicted Greer. While much of the report released Friday focuses on Crist and Greer — enemies of the current party leadership — it portrays the party of fiscal responsibility as having lacked basic financial controls and accountability.
Helpful to prominent Republicans on November's ballot — including U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio, chief financial officer candidate Jeff Atwater and House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon — it also absolves free-spending Republican politicians who only reimbursed the party for personal expenses after the media started asking questions.
Crist called the accusations "absurd."
"Wherever I go, I pay for it personally with my wife, and the notion that the partisan Republicans would attack the independent candidate shouldn't surprise anyone,'' Crist told reporters in Miami after taping a U.S. Senate debate. "We're about 47 days from an election. It's pretty obvious what's going on.''
The auditors found nearly $500,000 in expenses that appeared to have little to do with party business, but cited no red flags with Republicans still in office. Among other details in the report:
• The FBI is investigating Greer, having sought records relating to the twin engine private plane Greer bought in 2007 and which was often chartered by the party. The GOP's use of the plane helped Greer pay down money he owed for refurbishing the plane.
• Indicted former state House Speaker Ray Sansom charged thousands of dollars on his party credit card for expenses that had little to do with party business and which could pose an IRS problem over unreported income: books, electronic equipment, luggage, family sightseeing expenses in London. Sansom's attorney recently offered to return some of the more than $10,000 in equipment he bought at Best Buy, including two laptops, DVD players, GPS units and a camera, though the party declined.
• The party paid Gov. Crist's former chief of staff, Erik Eikenberg, $10,000 shortly before he began working as campaign manager of Crist's Senate campaign. Though the state party generally is not allowed to fund federal campaign activity, the GOP's former executive director said it was a signing bonus. Others said Eikenberg was consulting for the party, though without a required contract.
• Three times, Greer and his wife vacationed on Fisher Island near Miami where Mrs. Crist has a home. Greer charged nearly $11,000 to the party on his trips.
Greer was ousted as party chairman in January amid growing controversy over lavish spending and his management of the party's finances. After revelations that he had created a secret company being paid by the party for fundraising work, Greer was indicted on grand theft, fraud, and money laundering charges.
The party hired the Atlanta-based law firm Austin & Bird, which had worked on auditing failed energy giant Enron, to conduct an investigation.
GOP leaders last weekend voted to keep the report private indefinitely, but then reversed course amid concerns it would only prolong attention on scandals that have plagued the party for much of the past year.
"Florida Republicans, elected officials, donors and grass roots supporters alike, were disgusted by the inappropriate and extravagant spending rumored and reported to have taken place under Charlie Crist and Jim Greer's leadership, but for the first time we have a specific dollar amount tied to certain items and events and can gain a broader understanding of the mismanagement that occurred," Republican chairman John Thrasher said in a statement.
The report either barely mentions or ignores altogether currently elected Republicans who have had their own problems with how they spent party money. Rubio, who has not released all his party credit card statements, routinely charged personal expenses on his party cards, from groceries to family reunions, and had to reimburse the party more than $2,400 for double-billing the party for plane flights. Speaker-to-be Chris Dorworth of Lake Mary joined Crist, Greer and others on a Las Vegas trip that the auditors said had little to do with party business. Atwater and Cannon had to reimburse the party for hundreds of dollars in personal charges after the media obtained their credit card statements.
The investigation covered party expenses only during Greer's tenure as party chairman starting in 2007, and critics say that's because party leaders don't want to reveal how liberally legislative leaders were using their party credit cards long before Greer took over.
State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, scoffed at the implication that there could have been anything unusual about the party paying for some expenses of the governor's wife. For years, legislative leaders have taken family members along on fundraising trips on the GOP's dime, he noted.
"It's laughable for them to suggest that only Charlie Crist traveled where the party paid for his expenses and maybe some of his family members,'' said Fasano, a Crist supporter.
"They should be ashamed of themselves for not laying all their cards on the table and showing us the credit cards of Marco Rubio's expenses prior to 2006 when all incoming speakers and leadership teams were given AmEx cards to use at their leisure without any questions asked," he said.
Rubio said Friday he saw no reason to release his earlier credit card statements unless his party wants him to.
"No one ever questioned spending at the party before Jim Greer took over," Rubio said. "There were tight fiscal constraints in the party before that time. There was never a spending problem until Charlie Crist put Jim Greer in charge."
Times/Herald staff writers Marc Caputo, Beth Reinhard and Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
A look at some of the numbers
. $381,786.12: Expenses paid for by RPOF between 2007 and 2009 that the investigation determined were primarily not related to RPOF business
. $4,488.84: Amount repaid by individuals
. $98,412.26: Expenses paid for by RPOF between 2009 and 2009 that the investigation determined were probably not related to RPOF business
Read the investigation
See the report prepared for the Republican Party of Florida at links.tampabay.com.
Attacks on Crist suggest GOP has motives other than full accountability. 14A