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GOP questions big spending, campaign surplus

TALLAHASSEE — Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer charged personal expenses to the state party during a fundraiser this summer, adding fresh details to growing complaints that his money management was hurting the party.

Confronted with a $5,100 bill showing he used party money on spa treatments, seafood dinners and limousines during a party fundraiser in July at the Breakers Hotel, Greer said he would reimburse the party for some of the expenses Friday.

The hotel bill obtained by the Times/Herald showed that Greer and his wife spent $3,600 on a dinner at the hotel's Brasserie L'Escalier, $200 on spa services, $137 at the seafood bar and $80 on a limousine to the airport during a two-day fundraiser for incoming Florida Senate President Jeff Atwater.

A spokesman for the party said if the charges to the party American Express card were for personal items "they were a mistake."

The expenses "should have been applied to the chairman's card (but) were mistakenly applied to the master account," said Erin VanSickle, communications director for the party. She later said the bill hadn't yet been paid so Greer would be able to pay his part of the bill, $412, directly.

Greer, who is up for re-election as party chairman in January, has been under fire for weeks about his spending decisions during the presidential campaign, and complaints were renewed Friday after the party reported that it had not exhausted its campaign cash in the final weeks of the election.

New post-election GOP filings show the state party still had $1.37-million cash at the end of a period ranging from Oct. 14 to Nov. 24 with $432,000 in outstanding bills, according to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission detailing the party's federal election account.

Several members of John McCain's presidential campaign in Florida said they were told the party's federal account had been tapped dry in the final weeks, forcing them to scramble to come up with the money to buy yard signs and radio ads in Florida.

"They almost had daily rebellions at headquarters because people were begging for bumper stickers yard signs and buttons," said Ana Navarro, a major fundraiser for McCain's campaign.

"We had no money for food for volunteers," she said. "Practically every Republican in Florida knew we had no money, so I cannot understand it other than to think they were saving it for another campaign at another time."

VanSickle defended the party. "The RPOF absolutely did not hold back on the McCain campaign," she said. "We spent every dime the RNC and the campaign asked us to spend."

Navarro said that as long as Greer has the support of Gov. Charlie Crist, he will be re-elected. But, she noted, if former Gov. Jeb Bush runs for the Senate seat being opened by Republican Mel Martinez's retirement, he won't tolerate "excessive spending and inefficiencies in the party budget."

"You better believe there will be a marked change in how things are done if Jeb Bush runs for the Senate," she said.

State law requires political parties to report expenses to the Secretary of State's Office. But it doesn't require state parties to reveal such details as hotel receipts. They tend to be reported in line items referred to as "American Express" payments.

Greer, House Speaker Ray Sansom, Senate President Jeff Atwater and some party staffers use credit cards paid by the state party, and state law requires them to report the statements to the Division of Elections. That way, any party official who has a credit card could be held accountable.

However, in 2005, the law changed to allow parties to file financial reports electronically, so the office stopped requiring paper statements. Now political parties lump credit card expenses together, making it impossible for anyone to track who charged what on which credit card.

Secretary of state spokeswoman Jennifer Krell Davis said the state election's department believes it is following the intent of the law, although she acknowledged the loophole.

When told of Greer's personal expenses, former Republican Party chairman Tom Slade explained that he often used his personal credit card to pick up dinners that some of his colleagues argued could have been paid for by the party.

"Some of these guys get kind of carried away, it depends on the personality," Slade said.

Greer has also dipped into his own pockets to pay for things that could have been arguably paid for by the party. After the election, Greer took some of his top staffers on a cruise, which he personally paid for, VanSickle confirmed.

Times staff writer Adam Smith contributed to this report.

GOP questions big spending, campaign surplus 12/05/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 12, 2008 2:13pm]
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