TALLAHASSEE — From golf-course fees to charter jets to the nation's capital, Republican Party of Florida executive director Delmar Johnson last year racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel, food and expenses to his party-issued American Express card.
He picked up $3,000 tabs at posh restaurants; he chartered jets; bought flowers for the wife of party chairman Jim Greer; and charged greens fees, according to RPOF accounting records and credit-card invoices obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.
Johnson and Greer have said the travel and spending were a requirement to move in big-league political-fundraising circles, and the party says many of the charges covered travel and meals for big donors, as well as expenses including phone bills. They have refused calls to open the party's finances to outside auditors in the wake of accusations by GOP critics that money was misspent.
"It all has to be taken in perspective," Johnson said Thursday. "I'm sure it's nothing compared to a big corporation. Everybody used that card."
Grass-roots party members and big donors have been fuming for months over what they call lavish spending. The party's federal account, which pays for much of its expenses, ended last year with a $342,000 apparent deficit, while a larger state account spent most of the $13 million it raised.
Johnson was laid off along with 18 other staffers last month after GOP elected leaders found out about a contract signed by Greer that hired Johnson as the party's chief fundraiser in return for 10 percent of all "major donor" contributions. The contract, which the party leaders said they were never told about, paid Johnson $199,000 last year on top of his party salary of $153,000. Johnson received $56,750 more from a fund Greer set up to promote his re-election as party chairman — bringing his compensation to $408,000.
Greer, picked by Gov. Charlie Crist as party chair, did not return calls seeking comment.
Accusations that Greer and party staffers used GOP resources to live the high life have been at the heart of the monthslong effort to oust him — an effort that succeeded last month when the elected party leaders convinced him to resign effective Feb. 20.
In August, Greer chopped his AmEx card in a public display of fiscal restraint that followed news accounts of how former House Speaker Ray Sansom, R-Destin, had used a party-issued card to rack up $173,000 in expenses.
"I am tired of reading this garbage that's been promoted by people who ultimately want this party to fail," Greer told the party executive committee. "There is nothing inappropriate about a multimillion-dollar organization with senior staff traveling around the country to have credit cards, … if you're going to ask major donors to write $100,000 checks, I hope you bought them dinner."
Johnson did just that, racking up in a month almost as much as Sansom did in a year. From mid July through mid August, Johnson charged $133,763 to the party-issued card.
Records indicate that after chopping up his own card, Greer used Johnson's AmEx to pay for his own travel, and trips taken by Crist campaign staffers and a handful of state legislators.