A bitter battle is heating up to oust state GOP chairman Jim Greer, with leading Florida Republicans accusing him of serious financial mismanagement that could jeopardize Republican campaigns in 2010.
"Maybe Jim Greer would be more comfortable in Congress where deficits and excessive spending don't seem to matter, but that's not the Republican Party of Florida,'' said state Republican Party vice chairman Allen Cox of Gulf County, who said Greer has put the party nearly $4 million in the hole this year. "In the seven years that I have been chairman of the budget committee we have never had annual expense levels as high as they are now, and they are more than double than under prior administrations — special travel, staff and consultants."
As letters calling for a special meeting to consider rescinding Greer's post circulated among Republican Party officers across the state, former state Republican Party chairman Tom Slade joined the call to oust Greer. He acknowledged the move would be unprecedented.
"But we haven't had a chairman before flying on chartered jets when we have a $4 million deficit,'' Slade said. "He seems like a very ambitious young fellow who has got an ego the size of Alaska and has interpreted the position of the state party chairman as a throne upon which he can spend any amount of money he wants to spend."
Greer, 47, dismissed the charges of deficit spending as bunk and insisted he's going nowhere. And within hours of the St. Petersburg Times reporting Cox's comments, Greer ordered him expelled from the budget committee on suspicion of leaking confidential party information.
"I believe that I continue to enjoy a significant amount of support from the state committee, the House and Senate members and the governor,'' he said.
The uproar provides a rare window into the closely held finances of Florida's political parties.
While the parties file reports listing overall spending and money-raising, specifics aren't public. In practice, some of the money is expected to go for House and Senate campaigns, not day-to-day party operations.
Prominent critics contend Greer's money-raising has been so weak and spending so heavy that his share of the budget is on track to be about $4 million in the red. It won't show up in the public reports, though, because House and Senate Republicans raised enough to cover Greer's losses.
An internal Republican budget document obtained by the Times indicates Greer was budgeted to raise $5.5 million from major donors through Nov. 30 to cover core functions of the party but raised just $1.3 million. Overall, it shows the section of the budget covering the party's core functions had $2.6 million in revenue and $6.1 million in expenses.
Greer acknowledged that Gov. Charlie Crist running for Senate rather than re-election has posed a challenge to party fundraising, but brushed off a question about his own effectiveness as a money-raiser. "If the party has a good fundraising quarter, then Jim Greer has a good fundraising quarter,'' he said, insisting the overall party budget shows a surplus.
"He's smoking the wrong kind of cigarettes,'' responded developer Al Hoffman of Fort Myers, former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. "His definition of surplus has been custom-made to serve his purposes, and it's a total deception.''
Hoffman said Greer needs to leave not only to reassure major donors who have ceased giving to the party because they distrust Greer, but to save the party.
"In order for the Republican Party of Florida to remain strong, vibrant and relevant, it has to go back to its ethical principles,'' he said, predicting Greer won't go without an ugly fight. "Jim Greer is in a position he's never been in before — a position of power, of influence and access to a substantial amount of money and I don't think he wants to let it go."
Crist, who hand-picked the once-obscure Republican activist from outside Orlando, stands firmly behind Greer. Gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum is keeping his distance, noting that he helped organize a "Victory 2010" account to fund the statewide campaign, structured so Greer can't write a check without the co-signature of former state House Speaker Allan Bense.
Asked if he had confidence in Greer's leadership, McCollum said Wednesday: "That's something for the party to decide."
Bense, a respected businessman from Panama City, is widely seen as a potential successor to Greer, though he said he's focused on Victory 2010 and is not seeking any other position.
Greer said Wednesday that his critics may have the authority to have a special meeting called in January, but he doubted Florida GOP rules would allow a vote to remove him from the job.
Legislative leaders who could play a key role in such a vote were cautious about their level of support for Greer.
"Our current chairman is Jim Greer and I'm going to listen to his side of the story," said incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos. "I've heard the rumblings — of course, everybody has — but that's why we sit down and talk everything out."
The high-stakes coup is likely to culminate in Orlando over the Jan. 9 weekend.
"It's possible this shot ain't going to kill him, but once the elected officials and the candidates recognize that his presence is causing them harm — and it is — let me tell you something, he'll be out of there with all due haste," Slade said. "Politicians, it's been my experience, do not suffer any danger to their electability or re-electability silently."
Adam C. Smith can be reached at email@example.com.