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Florida GOP fundraiser's hefty pay angers party leaders

TALLAHASSEE — A lucrative secret contract awarded to the top deputy for Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer has Republican leaders livid as they try to repair the financially ailing party during this key election year.

The contract between Greer and Delmar Johnson — the 30-year-old staffer named by Greer to be the Republican Party of Florida's executive director — paid Johnson's company more than $260,000 for fundraising and $42,000 for expenses. Combined with Johnson's $103,000 executive director salary, he was paid at least $405,000 by the party in 2009, according to year-end reports filed this week with the Federal Election Commission.

Both Greer and Johnson are now being forced out of office amid widespread Republican displeasure with their management of party finances.

The two-page contract, first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, gave Johnson's company, Victory Strategies, 10 percent of the money he raised from major donors.

Johnson confirmed Thursday that the contract also included what he called a "standard" confidentiality clause prohibiting him from disclosing the contract "to any person, including major donors or members of the RPOF Finance Committee, without the express approval" of either Greer or Johnson.

"I don't deny that I was compensated very well for what I did, but I thought it was fair," Johnson told the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald on Thursday. "To save money, I was expected to step up and do both jobs, and do it well. In hindsight, would I do it again? Probably not."

Johnson said could not say which major contributions earned him commissions. He said that "no authorization was given to release" the contract but it was "available for any RPOF officer or board member to view."

Party leaders, still grappling with Greer's forced resignation last month, are fuming about the little-known agreement.

House Republican Leader Adam Hasner of Delray Beach called the arrangement "a slap in the face" for all Republicans "who have given their hard-earned money to the party to see it supporting a lavish lifestyle through secret contracts."

The party this week reported having $124,129 in cash and $466,978 in debt.

Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican, learned of the compact from members of the party's executive committee on Jan. 9, the day party officials voted to replace Greer and hold an election for the chairman's job Feb. 20.

Three days later, Johnson was asked to resign.

"McCollum was concerned about some of the issues at the party and was concerned about the need for new leadership," said Kristy Campbell, McCollum's campaign spokeswoman.

She said he is hoping the incident will spawn more internal party controls and better communication among party leaders, elected officials, executive committee members and grass roots organizations.

Johnson formed Victory Strategies LLC, with the help of the law firm Gray Robinson in Orlando, in February 2009, after the party's full-time fundraiser left.

According to federal reports, the party made 13 payments to the company, lump sums ranging from $33,000 to $6,801, and reimbursed him for expenses such as travel, tickets, meals, postage and golf.

Greer would not comment, but Republican Party spokeswoman Katie Gordon Betta said the 10 percent commission was comparable to the rates charged by other party fundraisers across the country, and Johnson's executive director salary also was comparable.

"The combined position of executive director and major donor fundraiser does not have an immediate precedent here in Florida, but that is not to say that similar positions don't exist in state parties, or other political organizations elsewhere," she said.

Gov. Charlie Crist said Thursday that he didn't know about the payments to Johnson.

"Sounds very high to me," he said, after addressing a senior center in Dania Beach. "I can't believe it. I can't believe it."

Asked if Johnson or Greer would come to work for his campaign after leaving the party staff, he said: "Haven't thought about it."

Herald/Times staff writers Beth Reinhard and Lee Logan contributed to this report. Reach Mary Ellen Klas at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.

Florida GOP fundraiser's hefty pay angers party leaders 02/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 4, 2010 10:15pm]
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