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Pinellas Republican spending rises with new chairman as donations drop

Tampa Bay area political parties are scaling back in these tough times — except the Pinellas County Republican Party.

There, under new chairman J.J. Beyrouti, spending is up even as donations are down.

The local party spent $103,000 the first nine months of this year, a 59 percent spike over the same period in 2005, the last time a governor's race was a year away.

Donations during those same periods fell from $161,000 in 2005, to $126,000 this year.

The spending includes an $800 monthly allowance for Beyrouti, 57, a former mayor of Redington Shores who runs a commercial real estate business.

The Hillsborough and Pasco counties' GOP organizations don't pay their party leaders.

Beyrouti said the stipend is necessary because his party work takes him away from business.

Beyrouti also was reimbursed $720 this year for a trip to Washington, D.C., when two national Republican groups named him their Entrepreneur of the Year. The party also pays Beyrouti's $160 cell phone bill each month, though he said he also has a personal mobile phone.

"I spend a tremendous amount of time away from my job," Beyrouti said.

Beyrouti said the spending is no big deal, noting the party has padded its reserve to $70,000 this year. He attended strategic party issues while in Washington, and has raised the local party's profile among national leaders.

"This operation is running perfectly," said Beyrouti, who has been reimbursed for $1,670 in expenses this year.

He noted spending is down from 2008, although expenses in off election years — there wasn't a countywide race this year — typically trails presidential election years. It isn't fair to compare this year with 2005, he said, because the economy has soured and Republicans no longer hold national power.

The decreased fundraising has narrowed the Republicans' contribution advantage in the county, although the GOP remains solidly ahead of the Pinellas Democratic Party.

Donations to the Democratic Party increased to $40,100 through September, markedly up from $7,000 in 2005. The Democrats also have spent nearly $30,000, more than five times the level four years ago.

Beyrouti, who easily won the chairmanship in December, retains support among Republicans. State party committeeman Tony DiMatteo, his predecessor who shepherded Beyrouti to the post, referred questions to Beyrouti.

Beyrouti said he has made spending cuts, recently reducing the office space and its monthly rent from $1,800 to $1,070, almost the same level it was four years ago. He trimmed costs for the office staff, and combined phone, Internet and cable service. Cocktails at the meetings of the Ivory Club — a big fundraising arm — are no longer freebies, he said.

The costs for February's Lincoln Day Dinner also will drop 10 percent from this year, he said.

He defended some spending by saying he "inherited" some bills, such as the cost of the Lincoln Day Dinner this year and rent.

The party also added an event featuring pundit Dick Morris at the Palladium in St. Petersburg that cost $4,500. Days after announcing it, the party slashed the ticket price from $75 to $35 when interest waned.

Ronnie Duncan, who donated $12,500 this year through his company, said the extra spending is necessary to grow the party's ranks. Membership on the executive committee has increased from 120 to 240 people this year, Beyrouti said.

"I will tell you that at least my experience is whoever the chair of the party works their butt off," Duncan said, adding his contributions are still a "good investment."

But another frequent attendee of the party's meetings, County Commissioner Nancy Bostock, said the party's spending levels could need a budget knife.

"I know it's very important to tighten our belts in everything. … That is something the party really needs to look at it," said Bostock, noting local government and other organizations have had to make cuts.

In Pasco, chairman Randy Maggard's expenses are reimbursed, but he doesn't receive an allowance, reports show. Hillsborough chairwoman Deborah Cox-Roush said no one's costs are reimbursed in her group, and there isn't a chair allowance.

"Maybe they should do it — our economics are way better," Beyrouti said of his stipend.

In Hillsborough, contributions fell from $79,000 in 2005 to $40,000 through this September. Pasco donations fells from $96,900 in 2005 to $58,100 in 2009.

Spending also dropped by nearly $20,000 in Hillsborough, though a $50,000 haul from its Reagan Day Dinner in October will spike the coffers. Big donations have diminished in favor of smaller contributions, Cox-Roush said, adding the party is being fiscally conservative.

And party members who want free food at social events get a message.

"I joke with them, if you want food, you get a sponsor," Cox-Roush said.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Pinellas Republican spending rises with new chairman as donations drop 11/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 26, 2009 8:42pm]

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