TALLAHASSEE — Days after he lost his bid for re-election last fall, former Rep. Peter Nehr of Palm Harbor used leftover campaign money to pay his live-in girlfriend $22,000 for "consulting," records show.
Nehr made three post-election payments to girlfriend Kim Marie, a 47-year-old acupuncturist, listing them as "consulting, editing and fundraising" expenses on his final campaign expenditure report.
The report lists her as living at a fictitious address in Palm Harbor, "2528 Glory Drive." Property, voting and other state records list Nehr and Marie as both living in a Palm Harbor townhome on Gloriosa Drive, which she owns.
"The fact that I know Ms. Marie on a personal level, and used her as one of my consultants, does not dismiss the fact that she worked very hard on my campaign and is legally entitled to be paid for work," Nehr said in a written reply to questions.
He said Marie raised more than $10,000 in campaign funds through her contacts in the field of acupuncture, drafted his campaign speeches and did voter outreach work. He said she has previous experience as a lobbyist in Tallahassee on acupuncture issues, including changes to automobile insurance laws last session.
Nehr said he paid Marie "not because of our personal relationship, but because she has the expertise, knowledge, contributor contacts and previous political experience."
As for the nonexistent Glory Drive address, he said that it was a "mistake" and that he would file an amended report "as soon as possible." He declined to answer additional questions.
Nehr, 60, a Republican, is a former Tarpon Springs city commissioner who served six years in the state House, from 2006 to 2012. He lost his bid for a fourth House term in November to Democrat Carl Zimmermann, who got 53 percent of the vote in the race for House District 65.
Nehr has since announced that he will seek the District 4 Pinellas County Commission seat in 2014 held by fellow Republican Susan Latvala.
The Republican Party of Florida donated about $100,000 to Nehr's House campaign, which amounted to nearly half of the $224,461 he raised.
Campaign documents show that Nehr spent more than $30,000 after the Nov. 6 election was over, too late for it to help him garner votes in the redrawn North Pinellas district.
The expenses included two payments to Marie, for $1,703 for "consulting and fundraising" on Nov. 15 and $20,000 for "consulting, editing and fundraising" on Nov. 20.
He also gave her $154 as a final payment for consulting on Dec. 30.
State law allows candidates to spend money after the election on thank-you advertisements, for previous financial obligations and expenses needed to shut down campaign operations. Violations are subject to fines from the Florida Elections Commission.
Most candidates donate leftover money to charities or to their political party. If they win, they can keep some money in a special account for office expenses.
Election law changes being considered in the Legislature would not address Nehr's pattern of expenses.
Nehr also paid two men $6,200 after the election for signs and materials and ran up tabs of $860 for 15 separate meals for campaign volunteers, plus a $552 election-night party at a Lee Roy Selmon's barbecue restaurant.
Earlier in the campaign, Nehr also made two payments of $1,000 each to Marie, also for consulting, records show. Nehr's report lists her at two other Pinellas addresses and in one entry identified her as "Kim Baptista," her name before she divorced.
As a state lawmaker, Nehr once publicly paid tribute to Marie in a moment of recognition on the House floor. Recognizing her in the visitors' gallery in April 2011, Nehr called Marie "my health adviser and my best friend," and thanked her for helping him to improve his life.
Formerly known as Kim Marie Williams, she notified the Department of Health's Board of Acupuncture in February 2012 of her name change to Kim Marie.
Nehr's most recent financial disclosure form, filed with the state last June, lists his net worth at $36,422. In 2009, he closed down the Tarpon Springs flag shop he ran for 18 years and declared personal bankruptcy.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.