Public stonewalling and secret deals. Kickbacks and hush money. Reckless spending and coverups. That is the emerging picture of the Republican Party of Florida. The leak of previously undisclosed documents has become a flood, and the scandal has grown well beyond the misuse of state party credit cards. Only federal prosecutors and the Internal Revenue Service can conduct a vigorous investigation at the highest level, untainted by state politics.
It is becoming clearer why it took so long to oust former state Republican Party chairman Jim Greer in January even as the party's grass roots activists and largest fundraisers demanded a change. Greer had his secrets, and powerful Republican legislators had theirs. Each side was desperate to avoid disclosure, no matter how much damage was done to the state party and how much it cost contributors.
First came the revelations of lavish personal spending with state party credit cards by Greer; former House Speaker Marco Rubio, now a U.S. Senate candidate; and Richard Corcoran, Rubio's former top aide and now a state House candidate. The credit card receipts for Republicans such as Senate President Jeff Atwater of North Palm Beach, a candidate for chief financial officer; Sen. Mike Haridopolos of Melbourne, the next Senate president; and Dean Cannon of Winter Park, the next House speaker, have yet to seep out.
Then came the disclosure that Delmar Johnson, the party's executive director under Greer, was particularly motivated to raise money. Johnson took a 10 percent cut of big contributions and made more than $300,000 in cash and expenses in addition to his $103,000 party salary. Why did Greer approve such skimming? Because he was in on the scam and owned 60 percent of Johnson's private company that received the party cash, an audit of the party revealed this week. The state GOP was little more than a front for Greer and Johnson to line their own pockets.
This is the Republican Party that preaches fiscal responsibility?
Cannon and Haridopolos were portrayed as the white hats for finally forcing Greer out. In fact, they signed a secret severance agreement with Greer to pay him another $124,000. So did Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine, the new GOP chairman. Even more remarkable is that the deal attempted to clear Greer of any wrongdoing as chairman and gagged them all from discussing any details, as if that will make nosy prosecutors go away.
This is the Republican Party that rails against fraud and corruption?
If that's not enough to interest the feds, this should: Greer's lawyer writes this week about a recent effort on behalf of Cannon and Haridopolos to pay Greer $200,000 in hush money. With that kind of money being discussed, there must be some more secrets left. Now Greer is suing for a severance package that the state party says is invalid — the sign of a desperate man willing to talk if he is not paid to stay quiet.
This is not just about state party infighting. Gov. Charlie Crist, who installed Greer as chairman and defended him far too long, has some explaining to do about what he knew and when. So does Attorney General Bill McCollum, who has been active behind the scenes and was too slow to ask the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate.
This is an investigation more appropriately handled by federal authorities. The FDLE reports to the governor and Cabinet, and the Legislature controls its purse strings. Crist is running for the U.S. Senate, and McCollum and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink are running for governor. With so much money and so many political futures at stake, only federal prosecutors have the independence to avoid even the perception of a conflict. They need to move quickly, because voters will need some answers before the elections.