TALLAHASSEE — If he wants to keep his job as the next leader for House Democrats, Rep. Darryl Rouson will have to defend himself in two weeks.
Current House Minority Leader Perry Thurston of Plantation said Rouson will have an opportunity to explain how and why he created his own fundraising committee, outside of party control, during a caucus meeting the week of Sept. 23, when all 44 House Democrats are in Tallahassee. Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, helped his case a bit by closing the committee in question early Monday.
"Stepping aside is Rouson's call to make," Thurston said. "If he doesn't step aside, he should be prepared to justify his actions to the members."
If Rouson doesn't step down, the caucus could decide in a majority vote to remove him.
Rouson didn't return phone calls. Thurston said "quite a few" House Democrats have requested Rouson resign his leadership post. On Saturday, a letter by Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, was publicly leaked asking Rouson to resign.
At issue was more than $100,000 collected by a fundraising committee that Rouson created last month to finance House races in 2014. When Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Allison Tant discovered it last week, she fired two staffers who helped Rouson set it up.
"Obviously, it's quite troubling," said Joshua Karp, spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party.
At least one donor wanted to know who exactly they gave their money to.
During an Aug. 29 Orlando fundraiser, the Florida Hospital Association contributed $10,000 each to "Senate Victory" and "House Victory," the fundraising arms for the Florida Democratic Party's state legislative campaigns.
Ordinarily, the money is deposited with the party, said Richard Rasmussen, a lobbyist for the Florida Hospital Association, which gives also to Republicans.
But after news of Rouson's committee broke last week, Rasmussen checked with the Florida Democratic Party and discovered it didn't have the check he wrote for House Victory.
"They don't have a record of it," Rasmussen said. "I gave the check to Darryl. You'll have to ask him where it is."
Thurston said late Monday that he spoke with Rouson and that the money had been accounted for. Still, as of late Monday, the Florida Democratic Party had yet to receive it.
"That's an issue that Rep. Rouson will have to address," Thurston said.
There's nothing illegal about the so-called Affiliated Party Committee, or APC. Lawmakers approved their creation in 2010.
A week after Rouson filed papers to create the committee, his counterpart in the House, incoming Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, filed papers to create his own.
"The new entity, the House Republican Campaign Committee, is simply one more way for me to do the job you elected me to do," Crisafulli explained to House Republicans.
At the time they were created, Democrats opposed APCs, deriding them as less-than-transparent slush funds.
One of the lawmakers opposed to creating the committee was none other than Rouson.
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (850) 224-7264 or [email protected]